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February 3, 2014

Detroit’s Winter Blast gives everyone a reason to go downtown

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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The Flagstar Bank Ice Garden will be a popular attraction during the 10th annual Meridian Winter Blast Feb. 7-9 at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit.

DETROIT — Jon Witz may be the founder and producer of an event in downtown Detroit that attracts more than 100,000 guests yearly, but even he can still get excited about riding an inner tube 200 feet in seven seconds.

The 10th annual Meridian Winter Blast festival held at Campus Martius in downtown Detroit kicks off Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 9.

While the event brings back some of its marquee events, it is the return of the three-lane snow slide after a two-year absence that has Witz excited.

“I think the biggest news that we have is we are bringing back our snow slide, thanks to Buick,” he said. “We are going to have a 200-foot-long, 32-foot-high slide with seven seconds of fun on an inner tube. It has been a great attraction for us, and we are truly excited to bring it back. We just started building the scaffold, and we are making 1,400 tons of snow tonight for the slide alone.”

Winter Blast runs from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. the first two days and from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Feb. 9.

The event will have several activities throughout the weekend, including snowshoeing, free ice skating, concerts, snowmaking, and lots of food and drink vendors. There will also be a dogsledding exhibition led by Amanda Vogel, a sled racer and Michigan native.

The Quicken Loans Ice Skating Exhibition will give attendees a show with synchronized ice-skating teams, speed skating and even a hockey-shot competition.

“I think one of the main points why this festival is a success is there is a lot of value,” Witz said. “For $2 or two can goods to benefit Matrix Human Services to get in, you get a great value with free music, free ice skating, free snowshoeing and activities for kids. It is a unique winter experience in Detroit for a great value, and it has big draws, which helps make it a nice success.”

Meridian Health Plan signed on to sponsor the event for three years beginning in 2014. Matthew Enders, vice president of new market development, said Meridian wanted to get involved because of the uniqueness of the Winter Blast.

“Everyone at Meridian is passionate about having a positive impact on our local community, and we love the fun the Winter Blast brings to Detroit, and it is right in our backyard,” Enders said. “You can’t have the experience at any winter festival like you can in downtown Detroit. You can never plan a vacation and do the things you can do in downtown Detroit at the Winter Blast.

“I think Campus Martius is such a historic area and people don’t always get to see what happens in this part of Detroit, and this is a good way to get out and do something fun and different.”

Another big draw every year is the Flagstar Bank Ice Garden, which combines several one-of-a-kind ice sculptures in one area. Patrons can take pictures and interact with several structures, and “The Lego Movie” will even inspire one sculpture this year.

“The Flagstar Bank Ice Garden mixes things up and is very interactive with people taking pictures of sculptures made in honor of movies and the Detroit Red Wings,” Witz said. “All the sculptures are backlit at night, and walking through there, you have great photo opportunities and it is a really popular attraction. Plus, I think we are forecasted to get temperatures in the mid-20s, so with what we have had, walking around the ice garden will feel balmy to people.”

Witz said the festival is successful every year and attractive to metro Detroit residents because it breaks up the mundane winter with a fun downtown event.

“A lot of events go on in the summer months, with one every weekend, and I think we stand out as a really unique winter festival in the city of Detroit because we do unique things you don’t normally see in an urban backset,” he said. “You are going to see sled-dog exhibitions and people snowshoeing and people roasting marshmallows on street corners, and there will be a huge slide on Michigan Avenue. To see these types of things on a major city street, it is a unique thing for people to see and experience and enjoy.”

Besides the uniqueness of the event, Witz said another reason people are attracted to Winter Blast is they get a chance to experience Detroit outside of the normal reasons.

“People, sometimes their trips might be to check out a sporting event, and they park and go to the arena and then back, where the Winter Blast showcases a very emerging district around Campus Martius,” he said. “There are new employees and new businesses and unique restaurants and nightspots and stores. This event serves as a showcase for the ongoing progress of the city, and it provides a great lift to what goes on down here.”

For more information on the Winter Blast, visit www.winterblast.com.