The Beach community will be concentrating on only one sand sculpting event this fall.
At a luncheon invitation on Wednesday, Aug. 8, members of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and selected media representatives listened to three officials announce a new partnership of coordination and management for the future of the American Sand Sculpting Championship Festival.
Last year, the championships were downsized to the American Sand Sculpting Competition and Beach Festival due to the World Championship of Sand Sculpting being held on the Beach for the first time in its history.
Beach Mayor Larry Kiker (center), pictured with Big C Events Jason Camp (l) and FMB Chamber President Bud Nocera, applauds the new partnership formed for the American San Sculpting Championships.
This year, the event has regained championship status and has expanded by running from Nov. 16 to Nov. 25 at the Holiday Inn on the Beach. The partnership involves the Beach Chamber, the long-standing coordination organization, and will be managed by Big C Events, Pinchers Crab Shack, the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Beach and The Sand Lovers.
"This is an exciting day for the chamber and I think it's an exciting day for all of Fort Myers Beach," said FMB Chamber President Bud Nocera.
"We are really exciting to fill this partnership. It's a great island," added Jason Camp, president of Big C Events who is also linked with Pinchers Crab Shack and the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Beach.
Beach Mayor Larry Kiker thanked all players for getting together and forming a partnership for years to come.
"I think we have all been waiting for today. It's been so long since this community has been pulled together," he said. "I'm hearing words like partnership and things like the north end working with the mid-island and south end of the island and residents working with businesses. And, it's all because of activities that we are talking about today."
The American Sand Sculpting Championship has a storied past, growing from a small event with a few Master sand sculptors to a Worlds qualifier with many. Past championships were fueled and driven by "great leadership from our volunteer members," according to Nocera. But, he felt a change was needed.
"When I got here I saw this wonderful little chamber of commerce that was working so hard to put on events. But, we really, really need to be focusing on visitor information and making sure we offer the value for our membership for business-to-business opportunities," he said.
When he came aboard as FMB Chamber president just a couple of months ago, Nocera stated he set up a meeting with some of the potential partners at the Holiday Inn and new a collaboration might be the way to go. The Chamber board of directors gave their blessing.
"What was developed was an incredible opportunity -an opportunity for not only this chamber but for this entire community, " he said. "So, from the standpoint from the board of directors and the chamber, it became not only a business decision, but a decision to do something that we hope would truly make this an island-wide festival and bring the entire beach community together and offer opportunity for the entire beach community to participate in and do something great.
"The board agreed and instructed me to enter into an agreement with Pinchers and the Holiday Inn for the management of the event. That agreement has been reached and the value over the life of that agreement is half a million dollars."
Camp, who has been involved in Sand Bash and the World Championship of Sand Sculpting on the sugar sands of the Beach, knows the small island has a strong community feel and togetherness. He pointed out the window towards the large, expansive beachfront in front of Pincher's Tiki Bar.
"That beach cannot be compared to any other one around here. Naples has nothing on this," he said.
The move to a longer festival-style event is comparable to the two events he has helped manage.
'"It's a 10-day event that is going to go over the weekend before Thanksgiving all the way through Thanksgiving weekend," he said. "We did another event that was highly successful because it hit two sets of tourist weeks."
Sustainability is an important factor in the partnership.
"I think its great for the community and the chamber. We are obviously making a significant investment towards it and we really want to sustain it. We're up here not just talking about the 26th annual, but the 35th.
Gratitude was expressed towards the local chamber team that has endured to keep such an event visible and viable through tough economic times.
"I want to personally thank Andrew Cochrane. He has put a lot of work into it for six or seven years. We certainly appreciate him getting it to this point. Hopefully, we can take the baton and run with it even further."
Cochrane was the chairman of the American Sand Sculpting event for the past seven years. He will not be involved in the management activities this year.
"I wish them all the success. I lived and breathed the American Sand Sculpting Championships for seven years, and I'd hate to see anything happen to it," he said. "When I became chairman of the event, we were losing $10,000 to $15,000 a year. We turned it around significantly to made a very good profit. I'm happy about that."
Based on a computer program, Cochrane stated he put in 330.7 hours in preparation, setup and actual work during the festival hours as well as breakdown time in 2011. He said his motivation for spending more than 2,000 hours over the years was "to generate tourism to the island (heads in beds)" because it brought him "great pleasure to showcase our beautiful sand by bringing in the worlds best sculptors and keeping the American Sand Sculpting Championship a 'True Sand Art Event' without all of the sideshows."
"I hope they put in the same type of passion that I had for it," he added.
Camp said the partners met officials from Junkanoos on the Beach and agreed the Championship kick-off party will be held at the establishment's 3040 Estero Blvd. location on Nov. 16.
"It's going to be a great party with good entertainment. We are working with a lot of other businesses to extend out and maybe do some happy hours up at Nervous Nellie's and other places after we close down," he said.
Kiker reiterated what a partnership may do for the Beach community during his closing comments.
"I think this will be the catalyst and declare this the day from now on for all of us to look to each other and work together," he said. "It's about time."
Tickets are just $5 for adults and children age 5 and older; age 4 and under are free. For more information, please visit www.sandsculptingfestival.com or the event's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SandSculptingFestival.