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Published: Tuesday, 2/23/2010

Monroe suspends downtown ice festival

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - After three successful years, the Ice Harvest Festival in downtown Monroe has been canceled for this year.

The reason: the economy and dwindling sponsorships from stores, nonprofit organizations, and corporations for ice carvings.

However, an optimistic John Patterson, president of the Monroe County Convention and Tourism Bureau, said he thinks the economy will rebound and the popular weekend attraction will return next year.

The two-day event was scheduled for this weekend.

Mr. Patterson said about 15 businesses and organizations had signed up to participate in the festival by paying for ice carvings.

Ice sculptures created by professional ice carvers have dressed up downtown sidewalks and the four corners of Loranger Square at East First and Washington streets during past Ice Harvest festivals.

"We thought it would be prudent to postpone the festival for a year. There is every indication that the economy is starting to make a comeback, hopefully enough to have it next year," Mr. Patterson said. "We definitely will have it next year if the economic picture is better."

The festival began in 2007 when organizations such as the Downtown Monroe Business Network and corporations including Monroe Bank & Trust and La-Z-Boy Inc. paid ice carvers to create sculptures.

Many carvings reflect a business' corporate symbol or its services or products.

Mr. Patterson said interest in sponsorship was strong last year, even though the 40 requests for carvings were fewer than the nearly 45 carvings in 2008 and the 55 ice sculptures in 2007, the inaugural year.

Festival-goers were also entertained with live demonstrations of professional carvers shaping blocks of ice into shimmering works of art.

"The hard cold fact is that somebody has to pay for it. The events are free and open to the public and made possible by the deposits put down from the organizations and businesses," Mr. Patterson said.

The Big Gig blues concert that is part of the month-long blues series sponsored by the Monroe County Library System was held the same weekend at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

The number of sites for the blues series was scaled back this year, and the event at the arts center is not being held.

However, Mr. Patterson said the lack of the blues concert at the arts center didn't contribute to the ice festival's cancellation.

Gabe Martin, president of the Downtown Monroe Business Network and co-owner of Martin's Shoe House, said he was disappointed that the festival was cancelled.

"I really liked that event. I thought it was unique. I would like to see it come back," he said, adding that he planned to form a committee to work on the event for next year.

Monroe Mayor Robert Clark said the Ice Harvest Festival ranks with other downtown events such as the Jazz Festival and July Fourth fireworks that bring visitors to the city.

"It brings residents downtown and other people into the city," Mayor Clark said.



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