Plans for annual ice festival heat up

Dec. 13, 2012  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.




“Where else but Plymouth can the city and the businesses roll out the red carpet for 100,000 visitors to downtown in the middle of January?”

For the last two years, the Plymouth Ice Festival has taken heat, much to the dismay of Sam Walton, the promoter and manager of the event.

This year, the “heat” began even earlier during a meeting of the Plymouth City Commission last week and in some unflattering reports about the financial status of the event, all of which puzzles the professional event producer.

Walton said he really doesn’t understand why the exaggerated reports were given any credence, much less publicity about an event dedicated to improving both the business cli- mate and the reputation of the city.

“All past bills for all ice festivals have been paid in full,” Walton said, discounting published remarks claiming that the future of the event was in question due to unpaid fees to the city.

“I take my role seriously, and I want to make everybody proud,” Walton said about the event during the commission meeting where permits for the three-day event, scheduled for Jan. 18-20, were on the agenda. This year, for the first time in the 31-year history of the festival, it will be a privately run, for-profit venture, and the former city ice Festival Committee eliminated. The event will be produced by Signature Professional Group, Walton’s company, as it has been for the past three years. The permits were approved by the city commission.

Walton said the change in status was necessary to provide funding for the kinds of entertainment and attractions needed to draw crowds of thou- sands to downtown streets in January. This year he is planning to add features like an ice- skating rink, a larger snowboarding area and cross country skiing along with many more activities and features, he said.

“There was a day when being a nonprofit allowed a group or event to obtain public funding, public (governmental support, federal funding, public grants, foundation contributions), but those days are behind us in regards to this event,” Walton said. “Most other event events in downtown Plymouth operate as a private venture, it was a unanimous board decision to dissolve and adapt with the times. The event can also achieve additional operating efficiency by being under the umbrella of the other events I own and operate versus being a stand-alone non-profit,” he said.

Earlier concerns reported about the financial condition and obligations of the festival were, Walton said, both misleading and inaccurate.

The accounting for the non- profit needs to be closed by the end of 2012 to dissolve the 501c3 status, Walton explained. “The accounting needs to be closed by the end of this year to the IRS. I am not anticipating any issues with filing nor any penalty fees,” he added, despite the concerns voiced by commissioners at the meeting. He agreed at the meeting that if there were any such fees, he would pay them.

Walton said that the change in operational status would be an internal company structure and that the public would not see any difference in the operation of the event, except to make it more attractive. He added that the event will still include many volunteers as it has in the past.

This year, he said, he anticipates more than 100 ice sculptures, a cross-county ski demonstration area for families and a Hot Spot warming tent with local merchants, vendors, food and a performance and demonstration stage. Walton said that this year he is planning on live entertainment and stage shows throughout the weekend and some fun inter- active ice sculpture displays for family photos.

He also said there will be an AGA Nation snowboarding demonstration on Forest Avenue and the Dueling Chainsaws Speed Carving Show will return on Saturday evening.

“This is an amazing event,” Walton said. “Our biggest challenge is obviously the weather. There have been years when t- shirts and shorts were appropriate work wear for the crew and we have had temperatures so cold, the ice actually became too brittle to sculpt.

“We try to predict what is going to happen, but it’s almost useless and more for our own amusement than anything else. We just have to be ready for anything;” he said.

“The change makes the event more desirable to major sponsors and that’s what we need to make it more attractive to every- body,” he said.

“Where else but Plymouth can the city and the businesses roll out the red carpet for 100,000 visitors to downtown in the middle of January?”

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