Lion dancers at a previous year's Dragon Fest. • Courtesy Photo
Lion dancers at a previous year’s Dragon Fest. • Courtesy Photo

On July 12 and 13, Dragon Fest returns to Seattle’s Chinatown/International District. Hosted by the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), Dragon Fest is the largest Pan-Asian American street-fair in the Pacific Northwest and was first organized as the summer fest in 1975.

When CIDBIA executive director Don Blakeney came on board in 2010, the event was rebranded as Dragon Fest. That year, about 15,000 people came to the event. Blakeney said they have steadily increased the size of the festival since then to about 30,000 people.

Dragon Fest’s tremendous growth is no small feat. One of the biggest challenges CIDBIA faces is having a staff of three organizing one of city’s largest events, Blakeney said. Similarly sized events are usually planned by groups of about 15 people, he said.

Dragon Fest’s growth can be attributed to its constantly evolving nature with the addition of new features each year. Blakeney said the food walk, which was implemented two years ago, has been the most successful recent addition to the event.

“It’s one thing to bring food trucks and entertainment, [but] we wanted to make sure people got to experience the Chinatown/ International District, so we invited local businesses to participate” Blakeney said.

Dragon Fest expands its reach further into the neighborhood this year.

“This year the festival will be extending further on King Street, all the way to 8th Avenue, at the doorsteps of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience,” said Tiffanie Lam, marketing associate for the museum.

Lam said the farther scope of the festival will help increase foot traffic to the Wing. The museum will be promoting their upcoming Bruce Lee exhibition, which opens on October 5.

“We will be only one of two museum in the world with items from Bruce Lee’s personal collection and we want to make sure the public knows about this exhibit,” Lam said.

Another big change this year is the new Night Market component to the festival, which Blakeney said he hopes will add a lot of fun energy.

Blakeney said when he started organizing the event, they ended the festival at 8:00 p.m. He wondered whether he could keep people who were already out for the festival for another four hours.

“[I’m] excited about bringing a second night market to the community. … The community already has another successful night market event, but this is the first time we will have it at Dragon Fest,” Blakeney said.

From 8:00 p.m. to midnight on July 12, 25 food trucks and additional vendors will kick off Dragon Fest’s Night Market.

“This year we are also doing a sidewalk sale on Jackson,” Blakeney said. “We want to show the community we are showing the businesses.”

There are about 10 retail stores participating, 20 vendors doing arts and crafts, and 20 neighborhood non-profit partners taking part in the festival.

Blakeney said he found support for the festival to be a snowball that gathered momentum, though he did add that CIDBIA had to answer some answer tough questions about whether the event was still relevant; he believes it is.

“The goal of the event is to promote the unique cultural heritage of Chinatown/ International District,” Blakeney said. “People will return as long as we do that and are doing it right.”

The festival’s food walk, for example, will showcase restaurants throughout the neighborhood. The food walk starts at 10:00 a.m. and will continue simultaneously with the night market.

People who sample food from five restaurants in the food walk are eligible to win an iPod-mini. With 35 restaurants participating, attendees will have a variety of choices.

For those who are short on time and can’t wait in long lines, VIP passes will be sold, providing direct access to the front of the line. The passes will sell for $25, until the day of the event, when they will be sold for $35. The first 300 people to obtain a pass will get a free event tote bag. CIDBIA is hoping to sell 500 tickets.

“[CIDBIA] has been the event steward for 20 years,” Blakeney said. “[We] do this for the neighborhood and as we look toward 2015, we want to make sure we are still reflecting the community.”

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