'All we expected and more': Ice Festival in Havre de Grace sees strong turnout

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The inaugural Havre de Grace Ice Festival, with its “fire and ice” theme, brought throngs of people to downtown Havre de Grace Saturday and Sunday, despite high winds and frigid temperatures.

“It was joyful to watch, and I cannot wait to do it again,” Bambi Johnson, executive director of the Havre de Grace Alliance, said Tuesday.

Johnson emphasized: “yes, yes and yes, we will do this again next year; this will become an annual event.”

The festival started Friday with a Cocktail Kindle kickoff event at the Vandiver Inn and continued Saturday and Sunday. People could walk through the downtown area and see 34 ice sculptures, which were provided by Ice Lab, of Rosedale, most of them clustered around downtown shops and restaurants along St. John and Washington Street.

There were also several ice-carving demonstrations, games of cornhole with boards made from ice, a showing of the Disney mega-hit movie “Frozen” at the Cultural Center at the Opera House on Union Avenue, plus live “Elsa & Friends” shows at the Opera House featuring characters from the movie, and a children’s parade among other ice-themed attractions.

The fire-themed attractions included a fire eater, a chili cook-off with six participating restaurants and the Lord of the Wings hot wing-eating contest at MacGregor’s restaurant. Coakley’s Pub won the chili contest.

Crowds were not as large Sunday as they were Saturday, as the winds were “pretty fierce” the second day, plus there were NFL playoff games. Johnson said “we still had a really, really good crowd,” and both showings of “Elsa & Friends” were sold out.

“We exceeded our expectations [for the festival],” said Johnson, who noted she has received messages since the event from people asking how they can get involved. “The excitement just caught on; it was wonderful.”

The alliance, a nonprofit entity, put on the festival with financial and marketing support from Visit Harford!, the county tourism promotion organization, and logistical support from the City of Havre de Grace.

The festival was the first major community event put on by the Alliance, which was formed in 2015 after the city dissolved its relationship with the former Havre de Grace Main Street downtown promotion organization.

“It was all we expected, and more, it really went well,” Lauri Orzewicz, the city’s tourism manager, said over the weekend.

Johnson said the festival would not have happened without support from the city and Visit Harford! She also thanked Alliance coordinator Julie Ruhnke for her assistance during the planning process and recognized downtown businesses and the Opera House for their participation.

“The whole city just really came together and collaborated,” Johnson said.

Orzewicz said, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, that “the city will fully support the event again.” She reported that a number of downtown merchants had an increase in sales over the weekend, more than they would normally see in January.

She said that local bed and breakfasts were sold out with guests in town for the festival.

Saturday’s festivities kicked off with a ribbon cutting, with Mayor William T. Martin participating.

Martin later told an Aegis reporter he thought Johnson “got a home run” with the festival.

“I have a strong feeling this is going to be a successful annual event,” he said.

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