Less than two months before the start of what's being billed as an international sand sculpting competition in Federal Way, the people involved were watching it slip through their fingers. Organizers didn't have enough money and threatened to cancel.
Then the Federal Way City Council came to the rescue this week, voting to pay $58,000 in “seed money” for the competition .
The city already had approved $23,000 in lodging tax money last year, but it turned out to be a drop in the bucket.
So at the request of the event’s leaders, the council Tuesday night increased the city’s contribution to a total of $81,000.
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Council member Jim Ferrell said the additional payment is a “wise risk.” He said organizers of the sand sculpting contest “are trying to put Federal Way on the map in a good way.”
Council member Dini Duclos said she’s excited about the competition because it’s an international event. Sixty-three competitors from 17 nations are signed up.
“I see this as an investment in our downtown,” Duclos said.
But council member Mike Park opposed authorizing the money because the competition’s board of directors has collected only a fraction of the budget. So far, it has raised $5,000 of the $25,000 in projected sponsor money.
“Your progress hasn’t been acccording to your plan,” Park said.
Organizer Rudi Alcott told council members the World Championship of Sand Sculpting would be canceled unless the council approved the added money. It would resolve the event’s cash-flow problems so organizers can pay for travel and lodging for competitors, he said.
Alcott said event organizers intend to pay back the money within the first 15 days of the competition, scheduled to take place in Federal Way for the first time Sept. 8-Oct. 3.
City spokeswoman Linda Farmer said Wednesday that the city is requiring $25,000 in sponsor money to be pledged before organizers can receive the $58,000, which will come from the city’s $3 million downtown development fund.
Nothing legally binds the event’s organizers to pay back any of the money contributed by the city.
The event has a budget of $399,500. Organizers now have $111,200 in firm commitments, but only $30,200 in non-city money.
More than half of the budget – $265,300 – is projected to come from ticket sales. Tickets will be $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for seniors 65 and older and children 5-16. Children 4 and under will be free.
Alcott, a member of the board of directors and publisher of the Federal Way Mirror, projected attendance ranging from at least 37,900 people to break even to as many as 80,000 to see the elaborately carved works of sand.
The contest will feature singles, doubles and teams, with most participants staying one or two weeks.
The competition will take place in the parking lot near the vacant former Toys R Us and Target buildings, near the Federal Way Transit Center.
Organizer Bob Hitchcock said the original site was moved from land south of Truman High School to provide more room. For three months, the competition had no site, Alcott said.
“If you don’t have a site, sponsors aren’t excited about giving you money,” said Hitchcock, a board member.
He said planners originally budgeted for $100,000 in sponsors but have since scaled back.
The competition had been held in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., for nearly two decades. Attendance there reached 60,000 last year, but its promoters could no longer sustain the event, Federal Way organizers said.
The City Council voted 3-2 – with one abstention – to approve $58,000 more for the competition. Council members Jack Dovey, Duclos and Ferrell voted yes. Council members Park and Jeanne Burbidge voted no. Council member Roger Freeman was absent.
Mayor and council member Linda Kochmar abstained. “In good conscience, I would not vote for it,” she said.
But she noted that the event already has been widely publicized and if she had voted no, the funding request would have died.
“I hope they’re successful,” Kochmar said.
Ferrell expressed optimism that Alcott and Hitchcock will put on a successful event. Hitchcock spearheaded the city’s now-defunct Festival Days weekend summer event.
“They are pillars of the community,” Ferrell said. “I have faith they can pull it off.”
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 firstname.lastname@example.org