By Jessica Hudgins
It all started back in 1984 when Hillcrest needed to raise money to renovate its beloved neighborhood sign. The city took down the sign, improved it with new paint and lights and turned it into the emblem that’s hanging above the intersection of Fifth and University avenues today. According to Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association, the community paid for the refurbished sign by throwing a street fair.
What started as that fundraiser has become a long-standing tradition and one of the neighborhood’s biggest parties of the year—CityFest.
“What we’re really celebrating is what the sign represents,” Nicholls said. “The sign represents urban living, diversity, creativity and all the things that you think about when you think about Hillcrest as San Diego’s original urban neighborhood.”
This year’s CityFest will take place on Sunday, Aug. 8, from noon to 8:30 p.m.
The Hillcrest Business Association produces CityFest every year, with all proceeds going toward neighborhood beautification and maintenance. Nicholls estimates the HBA will raise around $20,000 this year, but that doesn’t include the business traffic the event generates.
“In terms of economic impact, it’s hard to calculate [the total revenue],” he said. “We haven’t calculated the exact number, but it’s in the millions.”
This will be the 27th CityFest on Aug. 8, and attendees will notice one major change: there won’t be a sign lighting ceremony.
“This year we’re telling the story of Hillcrest in a very different way,” Nicholls said. “We’re making a movie.”
“Hillcrest, the Motion Picture” is in production now and aims to capture the neighborhood’s heart and personality. Filming will continue on the day of CityFest, when festival goers will be encouraged to share with the filmmakers why they live and love in Hillcrest. The movie will be shown at the conclusion of the festival as part of the Hillcrest sign’s rededication.
Although Pride is just a few weeks prior to CityFest, Nicholls said this event should not be confused with the LGBT festivities.
“Pride is a big celebration no doubt,” he said. “However, CityFest is really a celebration of all the parts of the neighborhood, whether it’s gay, straight, artistic or medical. It’s a celebration of our diversity and of the entire community.”
Just as in 2009, 150,000 people are expected to attend this year’s CityFest.
The grand stage will be set up under the Hillcrest sign and will feature multiple performances by local and regional musical acts throughout the day. The block between Fourth and Fifth avenues on University Avenue will be closed and gated off for the beer garden. An arts and crafts village featuring more than 250 vendors will line Fifth Avenue from University Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue. Also planned area a gigantic food court, the dunk-a-drag queen and the SDPix splash zone in front of Babycakes at 3766 Fifth Ave.
While cooling off at the splash zone, be prepared to be pampered with the tastiest of treats. According to co-owner Christopher Stavros, Babycakes will be passing out free desserts, including frosting shots. Stavros said CityFest is the party of the year.
“Anyone who has been here in the last two years knows how fun it is,” he said. “CityFest is great for us because it gives us more exposure to people who normally wouldn’t be in the area and lets people know who we are.”
This will be Babycakes’ third year celebrating at CityFest, but their first with a full-service bar.
Hillcrest veteran Urban Mo’s hopes CityFest-ers will begin and end their day at Mo’s. The bar and grill will host an all-you-can-eat-and-drink champagne brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the music turns up when the sun goes down with DJ Taj and Detour spinning house music and Top 40 hits.
“Cityfest is an amazing community gathering for people from all around San Diego to experience what Hillcrest has to offer,” said Chris Patrick from Urban Mo’s. “Having an active role in the community for 18 years, Urban Mo’s is a good example of that. Mo’s will definitely be the place to party after a long day in the August sun.”