Federal Way gives extra $25K for sand sculpting event

Rain damaged a few sculptures, including this one of President Obama, at the 2010 World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way. - Mirror file photo
Rain damaged a few sculptures, including this one of President Obama, at the 2010 World Championship of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

In a 5-1 vote, the Federal Way City Council extended an additional $25,000 in funding for the 2011 sand sculpting competition to be held later this summer.

The additional money will come from the city’s lodging tax fund, which is designed to create a financial source for tourism. So far, $23,000 had been earmarked for the event, as well as $5,000 for a parade. At the request of event organizers, the $5,000 set aside for the parade will be used for other purposes.

The World Championship of Sand Sculpting came to Federal Way in 2010 after spending nearly 20 years in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. The 2010 competition, held at a vacant parking lot at 31510 20th Ave. S., attracted 19,848 paying guests. Despite garnering regional and nationwide media attention over the course of a month, the event finished nearly $50,000 in debt.

John Hatcher, event organizer and vice chairman of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce board, was pleased with the council’s decision.

“I’m glad they had the faith in us to proceed with the recommendation from the Lodging Tax Committee,” Hatcher said. “Now that we’re moving forward, it opens up the possibilities.”

Changes to competition

A variety of factors, including the weather, led to last year’s sand sculpting event not being as successful as anticipated. Because of past weather issues, event organizers pushed the date of the event up this year to run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 5.

This year’s event will billed as a “Tour of Champions” instead of the actual world championship as in 2010. A site for the 2011 world championship has not yet been finalized, said Rudi Alcott, event co-organizer and Mirror publisher.

During the June 7 meeting, Councilman Roger Freeman and Deputy Mayor Dini Duclos shared some thoughts on making the sand sculpting event more of a festival. Freeman called for the event to have more of a “Bumbershoot atmosphere,” referring to the annual music festival in Seattle. Duclos said she feels there’s an opportunity to dovetail a food festival in with the sand sculpting event.

Hatcher, in response to these comments, said these ideas were raised last year, and that he looks forward to working with those interested in bringing more to the sand sculpting event.

Council member Mike Park was the only vote against the additional funding. Council member Linda Kochmar was absent from the meeting. Park’s objection came from the timing of requests by the event organizers, he said.

“(The) first year, this committee, asked for money two months before the event,” he said. “However, with this second year event, I believe you are duplicating the first year event. You’ve only secured about 42 percent of your sponsorship. I’m not comfortable allocating lodging tax money to this event.”

Background: By the numbers

• 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.

• In December 2010, two donors who wished to remain anonymous committed $50,000 to go toward debt payment, said co-organizer and Mirror publisher Rudi Alcott.

• 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 2010 to help launch the sculpting competition. This came despite staunch opposition from council members Mike Park and Jeanne Burbidge. In July 2010, Park went as far as to criticize the FWCC’s business plan, and said he had no interest in using public money to put on the sand sculpting competition.

• In its monthlong duration, the 2010 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.

• 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 event 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.

• The 2010 event 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.


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