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Havre de Grace leaders laud organizers of inaugural Ice Festival

Havre de Grace leaders praised the organizers of last weekend’s inaugural Ice Festival for putting on an event that prompted significant “buy in” from downtown businesses and drew people to the city despite cold, rainy and windy weather.

The festival was put on by the nonprofit Havre de Grace Alliance, with support from Visit Harford!, the county’s tourism promotion organization, and city agencies.

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“I wish to give a sincere thanks and appreciation to the Havre de Grace Alliance and their executive director, Ms. Bambi Johnson, who grabbed this idea and ran with it,” Mayor William T. Martin said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The festival was the first major event put on by the Alliance. The mayor also thanked Greg Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford!, and the organization’s board, plus downtown businesses for their support.

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Martin said Visit Harford! and the businesses shared the costs of the 34 ice sculptures — provided by Ice Lab of Rosedale — which were placed around downtown. Many were in front of local businesses and were carved with a theme representing that business, such as a sculpture of a bride in front of the wedding venue La Banque de Fleuve, a bunch of grapes in front of The Vineyard Wine Bar or a paint set in front of The Art Rooms Professional Art Supplies.

Havre de Grace city leaders and the police chief paid tribute to Beny, a long-serving K9 officer who died last Thursday, Jan. 17, during the City Council meeting Tuesday.

Each sculpture cost about $400, according to Martin. He said Visit Harford! and businesses splitting the costs made it possible to have so many sculptures around town.

“I want to say how proud I was of the downtown businesses,” Martin said. “They really bought into this idea.”

He noted that “it’s usually rare for a first-time event to have so much buy-in,” and he is hearing that businesses who did not participate this year want to do so next year.

“I think we have a repeat event on our hands here, council,” he said. “All we can do is grow and make it better.”

Council President David Glenn echoed the mayor’s comments about buy-in. He said he talked with Johnson Sunday, who reported that her phone was “lighting up” with messages from people who want to participate next year.

The vibe was certainly alive downtown Saturday for the first full day of the festival, as people walked through the streets, admiring the ice sculptures, crowding into the businesses and checking out live carving demonstrations.

People gathered in front of the Havre de Grace Visitors Center on Pennington Avenue as carver Jeff Kaiser, of Ohio, shaped blocks of ice into a pair of clasped hands topped with an APG Federal Credit Union logo.

APGFCU sponsored the sculpture and the demonstration, according to Monica Worrell, a former city councilwoman who now works as a business development director for the credit union.

“It was very nice that we could step in support the alliance and be a part of this ground-breaking festival,” Worrell said during the carving.

She said the clasped hands represent “people helping people.”

City resident Mark Farwell watched the demonstration with his wife, Carolyn, and sons Andersen, 5, and John, 3.

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He said the boys “love seeing all the different sculptures” Saturday, and he and his family regularly visit downtown for First Fridays events.

“Hopefully it’s good for the local businesses, and it’s something for people to get out and do in the middle of winter,” Farwell said.

Skip Roland, of Rising Sun in Cecil County, held his 6-year-old daughter, Aubrey, and tried to keep her warm as they watched the carving. Aubrey was bundled up against the frigid temperatures, with her head and face covered and her ears protected by kitty-kat earmuffs.

His wife, Lori, and 9-year-old daughter, Allie, were also present.

“It’s amazing he can do all that and not crack [the ice],” Lori Roland said in reference to Kaiser’s use of a small chainsaw, chisels and grinders to shape the sculpture.

The Roland family members said they plan to come back next year if the festival becomes an annual event.

“I think we’ll dress in a few more layers next year,” Lori Roland said.

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