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Federal Way rescues World Championship of Sand Sculpting

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You'll be able to check out sandcastles as jaw-dropping as this one by Michael Velling of Federal Way. Velling said he is unable to participate in this year's world championships.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Just when Federal Way's World Championship of Sand Sculpting competition looked like it would be a bust, the city agreed to pitch in $58,000 to rescue the event.

On Tuesday, the Federal Way City Council voted 3- 2 to give the non-profit Federal Way Community Council, the championship's organizing body, the remaining money it needs to hold the competition. City council members Jack Dovey, Jim Ferrell and deputy mayor Dini Duclos voted for the motion. Council members Mike Park and Jeanne Burbidge voted against it. Council member Roger Freeman was absent from the meeting and mayor Linda Kochmar abstained from voting.

"I abstained because I could not, in good conscience, vote for this," Kochmar said.

The festival is slated to run Sept. 8 through Oct. 3 at the former Toys R' Us parking lot, 31510 20th Ave. S.

The funding is considered a grant because the city is not allowed to act as a loaning agency. It comes from the city's $3 million Redevelopment Fund. There are no other plans to use the money soon, financial services administrator Bryant Enge said. The $58,000 was requested by World Championship Sand Sculpting executive board members Rudi Alcott, also publisher of The Mirror, and Bob Hitchcock.

It is needed to seed the festival, Alcott said. The total cost to host the championship is estimated at $399,500. Other funding comes from leftover Festival Days funding ($23,000), vendors ($2,200), sponsors ($5,000), Lodging Tax Advisory Committee ($23,000), admission and pre-sales ($265,300) and people's choice voting ($3,000).

Attendance

The non-profit plans to return the cash once the festival gets under way, Hitchcock said. The brunt of revenue is expected in the first two weeks of the event. During that time, sculptors from across the world will compete on-site. Onlookers will be charged $8.50 per adult and $6.50 per senior citizen to watch the artists work. The sculptures will be displayed for the following two weeks.

The sand sculpting must attract thousands to be a success. At least 37,900 paying visitors are needed for the Federal Way Community Council to break even. To repay the city, a minimum of 8,300 paying guests must attend, Alcott said. At least 60,000 paying guests are expected.

"This is not just a Federal Way event," Alcott said. "This is a regional festival."

Federal Way's sand sculpting competition is a replacing the event that, for 19 years, attracted 60,000 onlookers to Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia. The competition outgrew the Canadian city.

Council votes

Dovey, Ferrell and Duclos see the grant as an economic development opportunity. Sand sculpting could become Federal Way's signature attraction. Ferrell said contributing funding is risky, but could accomplish exactly what the city council has been looking for — a way to stimulate excitement in the downtown area and attract tourism.

"I can't believe I'm saying this: I urge my colleagues to support this," Ferrell said.

Burbidge and Park are turned off by the non-profit's financial projections. Park is concerned that the Community Council doesn't have enough sponsorship money and worries it will not recapture the funds invested in the competition. He came down hard on Hitchcock and Alcott for scrambling to find financing so close to the event's scheduled September date.

Resident Tim Burns said he doesn't feel it's the city's obligation to ensure the championship's success.

"I don't think the city should take on the role of being a bank," he said.

Risks

The financial risks come from shifting up-front revenues and expenditures. The Community Council planned to bring in $25,000 in sponsorships. It currently has $5,000, but is anticipating soon seeing the remaining $20,000 from customers whom have verbally agreed to sponsorship, Alcott said. The executive board is counting on that money, paired with the city's recent donation, to help cover the up-front costs.

The longer the board waits to buy participants' flights and hotel rooms, the more expensive those purchases will get. To boot, the city is putting contingencies on the funding. Duclos said she'd like to see the Community Council reach sponsorship benchmarks before the city hands over the money.

Media from across the world have already recognized Federal Way as the event's hometown. Evening Magazine plans to cover the championship live. The championship's website, www.worldchampionshipofsandsculpting.com, has generated more than 10,000 hits, Alcott said.

"We have to recognize the fact that they've been out there advertising in multiple media," Kochmar said.

Calling off or pushing back the festival is out of the question at this point, board members said. Pushing it back a year risks not being able to attract sculptors, some of which have already scheduled their flights and realigned their fall plans to attend the event, World Champion Sand Sculpting board member Doc Reiss said. If the championship does not happen in Federal Way this year, it will never happen here, he said.

"I see this as an investment in our downtown," Duclos said. "It's going to give us a terrible black eye if it's called off."

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