Despite loss, organizers hope to keep sand sculpting championship in Federal Way

Gold winners in the doubles competition: Hanneke Supply and Martijn Rijerse,
Gold winners in the doubles competition: Hanneke Supply and Martijn Rijerse, 'Distance Gives Perspective.'
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Despite falling short financially, organizers expect the World Championship of Sand Sculpting will return next year to Federal Way.

The event garnered 19,848 in paid attendance, but needed 37,900 attendees to break even, said co-organizer Rudi Alcott. The loss amounts to about $40,000 for the Federal Way Community Council, which must also pay back a $58,000 loan from the city.

Alcott called the event a cultural and media success that attracted spectators from across the country as well as overseas. Visitors hailed from as far away as Peru, Italy, Nova Scotia, New Zealand, India, England, Hawaii, Boston and Texas. Alcott noted one weekend when several dozen University of Nebraska fans came to the Federal Way event while in the region for a football game against the University of Washington.

The weather played a factor during the event's run from Sept. 8 and Oct. 10 at the vacant Hillside Plaza parking lot, 31510 20th Ave. S. Attendance spiked during the sunny weekends and trickled during the record rain, Alcott said.

The non-profit Federal Way Community Council helped lure the competition from Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., where it was held for 19 years. In July, organizers secured $58,000 in seed money from the city's Redevelopment Fund with plans for reimbursement. Primary expenses for the event include airfare, food and lodging expenses for the 63 sculptors representing 17 nations.

By revising the event's organization and marketing, along with hiring an executive director, Alcott is confident the championships can turn a profit next year. In that case, the event will be able to donate to local charities such as FUSION.

"It's a U.S. event. It goes beyond being the region's event or Federal Way's event," said Alcott, publisher of The Mirror, on the championship's potential. "I would have rather played and lost than never to have played."

Linda Kochmar, mayor of Federal Way, is concerned that event organizers are unable to pay back money borrowed from the city — money that is better spent on public safety and roads.

"If we don't have an upturn in our economy, we cannot spend that kind of money," she said. "Our resources are so tight."

Federal Way City Councilman Jim Ferrell, who is a candidate for mayor, said the sand sculpting event is a wise investment for the city.

"Federal Way got national news in a positive light. I think anytime we can get that kind of exposure for a positive thing that's all about creativity and competition, it's good for us," said Ferrell, adding that the event helps turn Federal Way into a destination. "I'd like to see it come back next year."

Check out a slideshow of winners:

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