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Sand sculpting competition will return to Federal Way in 2011 | Organizers tackle debt without city money

Hanneke Supply and Martijn Rijerse won gold in the doubles competition with
Hanneke Supply and Martijn Rijerse won gold in the doubles competition with 'Distance Gives Perspective.'
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Despite an outstanding debt of nearly $50,000 from this year's event, the World Championship of Sand Sculpting will return to Federal Way in 2011.

"We're definitely going to do 2011," said Rudi Alcott, a member of the organizing body's board of directors.

The 2010 World Championship of Sand Sculpting brought professional sand sculptors to Federal Way between Sept. 8 and Oct. 10. The event cost $312,703 to host. Revenues amounted to $264,299. The Federal Way Community Council (FWCC), the non-profit event coordinator, was left with a debt of $48,474. The FWCC now owes money to several vendors.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, Alcott made an unexpected announcement: The non-profit has found a way to pay its debt and is moving ahead with plans for 2011's championship. The announcement came as a shock to the council, which was prepared to vote that night on whether to issue the FWCC $50,000 to cover its debt. Last minute news received just prior to Tuesday's meeting made the vote unnecessary, Alcott said.

"We will make this thing happen," Alcott told the council. "We will make it financially responsible."

Paying for 2010

Prior to the meeting, the FWCC had said it would not bring the competition to Federal Way in 2011 if it were unable to first pay debt accrued during this year's championship. The non-profit had solicited funding from community members in an effort to pay the debt. It turned to the city for help when nobody immediately responded.

On Tuesday, two donors, whom Alcott will not name because they wish to remain anonymous, stepped forward at the last minute, committing $50,000 to go toward debt payment, Alcott said.

"They don't want their name to be out there," said Alcott, who is publisher of The Mirror. "They just want to be a part of it."

The FWCC is still under pressure. It has not received the money, and impatient vendors want to be paid. The non-profit owes 26 vendors, with 23 of them from Western Washington. The largest delinquent bill is $10,500 — a charge associated with lodging this year's sand sculptors, Alcott said. Vendors will be paid, Alcott assured. The FWCC expects to see the $50,000 within a month's time, he said.

"Everybody's going to get their money, 100 percent," Alcott said.

Looking forward to 2011

With the promise of funding to clear its name, the Federal Way Community Council (former organizer of Federal Way Festival Days) is moving forward with plans for a 2011 World Championship of Sand Sculpting. The attraction will be scaled back. To start, there will no longer be a teams competition. This saves the FWCC about $57,000 associated with lodging, meals and airfare for the team sculptors, Alcott said. Less labor, decreased insurance costs, local judges and the reuse of building materials for the sand sculptures will save an additional $15,779 or so.

"2011 is going to be a fantastic year for this event," said John Hatcher, FWCC board of directors member.

Split council

Unlike 2010, the FWCC does not anticipate asking the city for money to seed 2011's sand sculpting competition, Alcott said. If circumstances change and public funding is requested, the situation could get political. The city donated $23,000 in Lodging Tax Advisory Committee funding for the 2010 event. Another impromptu $58,000 in general funds was awarded in July to help launch the sculpting competition. This came despite staunch opposition from council members Mike Park and Jeanne Burbidge. In July, Park went as far as to criticize the FWCC's business plan, and said he had no interest in using pubic money to put on the sand sculpting competition.

Park indicated Tuesday that had the issue gone to a vote, he would have voted to use public funds to help the competition. It's important to pay off the vendors, who are now suffering, he said. However, councilman Jim Ferrell, who voted to award the FWCC the $58,000 in July, said Wednesday he would have voted against awarding more money toward this year's sand sculpting competition.

"My comfort level just wasn't there," he said. "I'm a bit concerned about opening the checkbook again for this year."

Ferrell said he voted in July to award the money with the understanding that it could be repaid to the city. Ferrell said if the FWCC does request more money for the 2011 championship, he'd consider voting for the issue, but would first need to analyze the situation more thoroughly.

"They should look at us as a last resort and do everything they can do to find private funding," he said.

Making a name for itself

Ferrell and others admit the possibility of long-term success is high with the World Championship of Sand Sculpting. All the council members see value in the event, he said. The art was awesome and the championship attracted positive media coverage of Federal Way, he said.

The event needs to be a reoccurring thing, audience members at Tuesday's meeting said. Federal Way lacks any significant or well-known festivals that draw crowds to the city, said Toby Olsen, Clarion Hotel director of sales. While other cities with community events are seeing stability in hotel room rentals, Federal Way is not, he said. The sand sculpting competition has the potential to become a well-known attraction that brings tourists to Federal Way, Olsen said.

"We need to get out there and say 'spend your money in Federal Way,'" he said.

The 2010 World Championship of Sand Sculpting was moderately successful at doing this. In its monthlong duration, the championship attracted 19,848 paying guests. They came to watch the worldwide sand sculptors, who qualified for and were invited to participate in the world championship after winning pre-qualifying competitions. Those who attended the event were delighted at the large, detailed pieces of art carefully crafted out of sand. Councilman Roger Freeman said he took his family to see the artwork twice.

"My kids were astounded," he said.

But financially, the championship fell short. Organizers had expected to see at least 60,000 guests, the number that traditionally attended the competition when it was previously held in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. At a price of $8.50 per adult, a minimum of 37,900 visitors were needed for the Federal Way Community Council to break even.

Torrential downpours in September contributed to the poor turnout. Some people also considered Federal Way, which lacks a beach or a regular tourist crowd, an untraditional host for the event.

"When I first heard about it, I thought 'This has got to be a joke,'" resident Wayne Triplett said.

Now, after seeing the spectacle, Triplett supports the championship.

"This is an event Federal Way should embrace and embrace with the strongest type of commitment," he said.

Did you know?

The World Championship of Sand Sculpting came to Federal Way after spending nearly 20 years in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. In September 2009, Northeast Tacoma resident Bob Hitchcock and Port Angeles resident Doc Reiss announced they were working to make Federal Way the competition's next home.

To learn more about the championship view photos of sand sculptures, visit www.worldchampionshipofsandsculpting.com.

Check out a video from the 2010 World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way:

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