Arizona Balloon Classic

Tim Matykiewicz plans his three-weekend series of fall festivals to be as festive as his Arizona Balloon Classic is every winter in Goodyear.

An Organic Pumpkin Farm Stand, hot air balloons aglow in the gloaming, a BBQ cook-off, a variety of local food trucks and retail vendors, a beer garden.

What’s not to like?

Those are but a few attractions scheduled at the free Fall Fest held today, Oct. 25, through Nov. 7 on the grounds of Phoenix Premium Outlets at Wild Horse Pass and organized by the Arizona Events Group and their indefatigably optimistic president and CEO Tim Matykiewicz, an Ahwatukee resident and McClintock High Class of ‘81 alum.

The germ of the idea for the Fall Fest in the East Valley came shortly after the completion of the very successful 2020 Arizona Balloon Classic this past January in Goodyear. 

After months of research and arrangements, the agreement to have the Fall Fest was signed with Simon Properties/Phoenix Premium Outlets on the Gila River Indian Community on March 1, 2020.

And then COVID and the mid-March statewide shutdown struck.

“Live events are one of the first things shut down and the last to reopen,” said Matykiewicz. “We signed the deal the first of March, just two months after our ninth annual Arizona Balloon Classic. 

“We were on the road producing hot air balloon glows in Beaumont, Texas, and Riverside, California. And then, March 10, COVID craziness started.”

Originally, the Fall Fest event was envisioned as a one-weekend BBQ and Balloons, or what he called a BnB event, but Arizona Events Group was asked to expand it.

As happens sometimes when organizing events, unforeseen obstacles loom – as it did just two weeks ago when the Gila River Indian Community Task Force asked for a meeting to review all plans for the already-in-place event.

“It’s been crazy,” Matykiewicz said. “You’re getting excited, you’re discouraged, you’re excited, you’re discouraged but we have a positive outlook and keep moving forward. 

“The Gila River Indian Community and Simon Properties have been very professional, understanding and really willing to work out details for a fun, successful and safe event.”

And that is what Matykiewicz and his staff are doing while striving to meet health protocols to assure locals that the Fall Fest is seriously taking their COVID concerns to heart. 

“In regard to social distancing, we’re distancing all our vendors – food and retail so as to not have too many individuals in one place and since it’s an open-air location, we have plenty of space,” he said. 

“As for personal distancing space, we’re not enforcing anything, but are relying on each individual’s responsibility to their most comfortable position and there’s lots of signage stating this health protocol.”

He said where normally the AEG organizers that host the Arizona Balloon Classic and other large metro Phoenix events would expect large crowds at their events. Yet, with people hesitantly emerging from the months-long quarantine, he’s uncertain what to expect.

“I’m not sure we’ll get the masses as some people are still being cautious, and we understand. But we’re committed to making our event the very cleanest and healthiest environment in Arizona,” he said. 

“When you come to the Fall Fest at the Outlets, you’ll be required to wear a mask – which is enforceable – distance when you can and we’ll be swimming in hand sanitizer.”

He said what he and his company want most is to offer the East Valley community a little hope amid the pandemic gloom, provide activities for them to have a good time and to help raise money for the Phoenix-based Hope for the Homeless nonprofit. 

“This year with the effects of COVID-19, unemployment and small business hardships, we want to give back to those in our own community with this free Fall Fest; plain and simple,” he said.  

The organizers are donating 25 percent of all gross liquor sales and 25 percent of all Relief Raffle ticket sales directly to Hope for the Homeless. 

Additionally, Fall Fest attendees are urged to bring at least one canned food item to be donated for a Thanksgiving food drive. 

The festivities today run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Food trucks, a variety of retail vendors, a beer garden and an organic (and sanitized) Pumpkin Farm Stand with pumpkins suitable for cooking or carving direct from Crooked Sky Farms of Phoenix, a certified organic and non-GMO produce grower are components of weekend. 

Under recommendations from the Gila River Indian Council, the proposed fireworks were eliminated.

Halloween Weekend at the Fall Fest begins Oct. 28th and runs through Oct. 31 with the Pumpkin Farm Stand, food trucks and beer garden and retail vendors returning. 

And, as Matykiewicz said, it wouldn’t be Halloween weekend without a costume contest, a pumpkin decorating competition and other family-oriented activities. 

A fitting 2020 Fall Fest addition is the newly-added COVID mask competition. 

Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6 and 7, is BBQ n Balloons Weekend with a People’s Choice BBQ competition, hot air balloon glows and tethered hot air balloon rides. 

 All Fall Fest weekends include the beer garden, food trucks and a variety of retail, food and drink vendors.

Undertaking such a large-scale event isn’t for the faint at heart, but Matykiewicz has a great deal of faith and years of experience from which to draw.

A life-long east valley resident who parlayed his McClintock High school football prowess to a scholarship at Colorado Christian University where he also played basketball, his post-grad credentials include a 10-year stint as corporate marketing manager at the Arizona Lottery, Director of marketing and special events for Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine for eight years, executive director for the Thunderbird University Balloon Classic, where his love for hot air balloons spurred him on to start Arizona Events Group with Nanette Duncan in 2008.

Matykiewicz said he’s accustomed to hard work, and yet, there’s the desire and pleasure of seeing people having a good time that also drives him – especially in 2020.

“Nothing’s easy right now for a lot of people and businesses but it looks and feels like people want us to be in business. I can sense that cabin fever is peaking and people are coming out more.  They’re putting their foot in the water and testing it out, and they’re taking precautions as they start to go out.”

Phoenix Premium Outlets at Wild Horse Pass is located at 4976 Premium Outlets Way, Chandler. 

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