By Jeffrey Bushke Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Officials are gearing up for a new era for the BP World Ice Art Championships. This year has been one of change, including some organizational changes and some program changes.
“Changes are coming to the George Horner Ice Art Park,” said Hank Bartos, president of the board of directors of Ice Alaska. “Ice Alaska must be sustainable in a business model. We want to move from being a 33-day-a-year destination to a 365-day-a-year destination.”
Each year, tens of thousands of people descend on the park to observe art and artists from around the world, but the 2014 BP Ice Art Championships were almost canceled because of a lack of funding. Finance committee chairman Don Swarner said a new model is needed for the event to survive.
“If the income doesn’t improve, the entire project is in jeopardy,” Swarner said.
Swarner said there are few opportunities to cut expenses and that the “real salvation is increased funding” in the form of donations and corporate sponsorship.
The move from a previous site, which was owned by the Alaska Railroad, to the current site, owned by World Ice Association, had crippling financial impacts on the organization, Swarner said. The move cost the organization $1.5 million.
“The move had monetary implications that we had not anticipated,” he said. “Once we have the infrastructure in place, we should be self-sustaining.”
This year will have a “snow sculpting” exhibition with hopes that it will become its own event in January 2015. There also will be a dog mushing team offering 15-minute adventures during the month of March.
There are several tentative plans for additional events. If all goes as planned, there will be a wedding chapel built where couples can tie the knot in a unique setting. Other events on the drawing board include a wood sculpting competition proposed in June and a sand-sculpting competition sometime in the summer.
There will be a new fee structure in place for this year that includes increases for day passes and season passes.
“It is still great entertainment value for the money,” Bartos said.
There also are transitions this year in Ice Alaska’s management. Longtime chairman Dick Brickley is shifting to a role as chairman of the ice carving championships.
“I completed my three-year term and decided new leadership would bring new ideas,” Brickley said. “I have been doing this over 20 years and its time I moved on.”
This is the 25th year of operation that began with a vision of international cooperation of artists and becoming a world-class destination for tourists during the winter. Then-Sen. Frank Murkowski helped with the initial funding, but the event has been boosted in the years since then by numerous volunteers.
“Our volunteers are our biggest asset,” Swarner said. “Hundreds of volunteers put in untold thousands of hours to make the ice carving event a success. We have community service workers, we have retirees that are local, we have retirees that travel to Fairbanks for the whole month of March, just to volunteer.”
Using numbers estimated by the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau on per-visitor spending, Ice Alaska estimates economic impact to the local hotels, restaurants, pubs, gift shops and stores is about $20 million, with visitors from all 50 states and more than 30 countries. The organization received $20,875 from the 2013 bed tax and gate receipts amounted to about $250,000.Swarner said that the organization received $775 in the first year of the charitable Pick. Click. Give. program associated with the Permanent Fund Dividend. Ice Alaska has not been a recipient in subsequent years, and although it is too late to for this year, they will be sure to be on the list in future years.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com