UTICA — Fireworks, an amateur ice-carving contest, creative and custom Disney ice sculptures, a frozen fish toss, carriage rides, a magician, kids’ activities and a Radio Disney live show all added a communal feel to historic downtown Utica Feb. 7-9.
Utica’s Downtown Development Authority-sponsored ice festival continued to grow this year, with 102 blocks of ice forming 65 ice sculptures that lined the city streets and Memorial Park’s Riverwalk. Those sculptures included a 29-block ice castle with a throne inside and a 16-block tower that shot 20-foot flames into the air Saturday night.
The city beat its 54-sculpture record from last year’s event.
Jeff Wolf, owner of Finesse Ice, Macomb Community College ice-carving instructor and Shelby Township resident, provided the ice and sculptors for the Utica Ice Festival and oversaw the amateur ice-carving festival, which featured eight culinary students from Macomb and Oakland community colleges.
“I love ice. I love what you can do with it and be a part of somebody’s wedding or corporate event. It’s a fun thing,” Wolf said. “I happen to do a lot of ice shows, including Grosse Point, Warren, Utica, Mount Clemens, Rochester and, new this year, St. Clair Shores.”
Wolf said the Utica DDA, council members and business owners are a motivated and active crew with fresh ideas. He added that his company customizes the Disney theme to businesses’ storefront sculptures, such as Donald Duck holding a palette and paintbrush in front of an art supply store.
“(Utica’s ice festival) is always fun, and the Disney theme allows us to do a lot of fun things. When people stand in front of Mike and Sully (from the movie “Monsters, Inc.”) they just kind of chuckle and can have fun with the interactive stuff,” he said. “Even adults think back to fun times in their childhood.”
DDA member and owner of Hogs Hollow Smokehouse John Sattman said the fireworks Friday in Memorial Park were bigger and better than ever, and Ace Pyro outdoes itself every year. He said, although bitterly cold, more than 1,000 people turned out.
“We have new ice stands. That’s a big thing. We didn’t lose a single block of ice this year for the first time in 10 years,” Sattman said. “We just had cinder blocks with wood on top (before), and (sculptures would) just shoot off. Now, we made stands that have a retaining rail.”
The ice sculptures also are fitted with colorful lights that illuminate them at night.
Another popular destination is the highly anticipated used book sale at the Utica Public Library. Library Director Marsha Doege said patrons lined up halfway across the parking lot waiting for the 10 a.m. start of the sale on Saturday.
“(The used book sale is) doing very, very well this year. Our first hour is always our busiest hour, as a rule. Diehard book people want the best things in the best condition, and some are interested in our large DVD and CD selection,” Doege said.
Barbara Montag, a member of Utica’s City Council and a trustee on the library board, said since the DDA took over the ice festival from the Parks and Recreation Department, it continues to grow.
“It’s a good thing for bringing people down here,” Montag said.
Utica High School students also got involved — National Honor Society students volunteered at the library, and six DECA student ambassadors helped coordinate events, point people in the right direction and interact with families.
“It’s nice coming down here,” said Natalie Merritt, of Mount Clemens, who came with her daughters, Ashleigh, 7; Charleigh, 3; and boyfriend, Scott Andromalos. “The weather is not that bad (this year); we like to do the activities, and we usually go to the library’s used book sale so the kids can stock up on books.”
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