By Steve Maynard The News Tribune
FEDERAL WAY — Heading into its final weekend, a sand sculpting championship in Federal Way faces some rough waters.
Attendance and revenue are short of breaking even and it’s not clear whether the event will be held again in Federal Way next year, organizer Rudi Alcott said.
It’s also uncertain whether the organizing group, the Federal Way Community Council, will be able to pay back any of the $58,000 the City Council gave it in “seed money.” Alcott said Wednesday the World Championship of Sand Sculpting is losing money.
But some City Council members called the nearly five-week sand showcase a success for attracting tourists and media coverage, even if the city doesn’t get its money back.
And they praised the sculptures, ranging from a tribute to U.S. soldiers to a sand shaman and a figure of Oprah Winfrey.
Some 63 sculptors from 17 nations in singles, doubles and team competitions produced 44 creations out of sand trucked to the old Target and Toys R Us parking lot, starting Sept. 8. The sculptures will be torn down after Sunday.
“I thought they were fantastic,” said council member Jack Dovey.
Some other elected leaders called the results mixed mainly because of the cost to the city.
Alcott said attendance through Tuesday was 16,148 — less than half what was projected to break even. He said Wednesday that organizers were about 8 percent short of revenue needed to break even.
“We clearly want to do it again,” said Alcott, a member of the Community Council’s board of directors. “It’s a critical success. Everybody that came forward loved it.”
Alcott, who also is publisher of the Federal Way Mirror, attributed the less-than-expected turnout to an unusually wet September. The rain damaged two sculptures of Jesus Christ and President Barack Obama beyond repair.
Alcott said he would like to have the event in August next year when there’s less chance of rain and children are out of school.
On the bright side, the sand sculpting competition drew tourists from outside Federal Way even from other countries and attracted local and national media coverage on NBC’s “Today” show and CNN, Alcott said.
While the competitive sculpting is over, organizers extended the event by a week to bring in more revenue from those buying tickets to view the elaborately carved sculptures in a parking lot. Holding it on a beach was not possible, Alcott said, because the sand used for carving is nonnative and not allowed on Washington beaches.
Alcott said Wednesday that he is working to secure an additional $50,000 in sponsorship money by Sunday.
With that, the championship would turn some profit, be able to pay the city at least some of the $58,000 and would start planning to return to Federal Way next year.
Without the added sponsorship dollars, none of that will happen, Alcott said.
City Council members Jim Ferrell, Jack Dovey and Jeanne Burbidge described the event as a success.
“In the end, it’s not about the dollars and cents, per se,” Ferrell said. “It’s about positioning Federal Way as a destination and a place where good things happen.”
Mayor Linda Kochmar said the downside was the cost to the city.
Kochmar voted to award the championship $23,000 in lodging tax money for promoting tourism last year. But she abstained in the council’s 3-2 decision in July to approve another $58,000 from the city’s downtown development fund for a total city contribution of $81,000.
Alcott told the City Council then that the event would be canceled due to a lack of cash flow to pay travel and lodging for competitors unless the added money was approved. He said the Community Council intended to repay the $58,000 within the first 15 days of competition.
“I don’t see myself voting for that kind of money for that event again,” Kochmar said. “I never thought they would have the number of people they were looking for.”
She said the championship was a success “in terms of advertising, good will and tourists.”
But repaying the $58,000 was “part of the deal,” Kochmar said. The Community Council is not legally required to do so. Alcott called it a “gentleman’s agreement.”
Alcott projected in July that attendance would reach at least the 37,900 people needed to meet the championship’s budget of $399,500.
The competition had been held in Harrison Hot Springs, B.C., for nearly two decades. Attendance there reached 60,000 in 2008, but its promoters could no longer sustain the event, Federal Way organizers said.
Council member Mike Park said local organizers depended too much on ticket sales for revenue and didn’t line up enough sponsorships before the first sculptor started carving last month.
“Considering it’s a first-year event,” Park said, “I consider it somewhat successful.”
Park, like several of his council colleagues, said he’d like to see the sand sculpting championship return next year.
“Hopefully, it would be a better planned event,” Park said.