Superior’s City Council rejected a recommendation from its Finance Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 15, that would have eliminated the city’s annual Ice Festival.

The first festival kicked off in 2015 as a celebration of winter after the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore experienced a surge in winter visitors in response to the ice-laden sea caves, which generated an estimated $10 million-$12 million in economic activity in the communities around the Apostle Islands.

Councilors voted to modify the proposed budget for hotel and motel tax revenue to include $40,000 for the Ice Festival in 2020.

Funding for the festival had been eliminated in favor of balancing the budget and in favor of expanding activities surrounding the city’s annual tree-lighting festivities that now proceed Small Business Saturday, Mayor Jim Paine said. He said the Ice Festival is the city’s most costly festival.

In fact, the money allocated to the Ice Festival in 2020 exceeds the city’s participation in the Citizen’s Fourth of July festivities by $10,000, according to the budget.

Motorcycles make a turn on the racetrack during the Ice Festival on Barkers Island in 2018.  (Jed Carlson /
Motorcycles make a turn on the racetrack during the Ice Festival on Barkers Island in 2018. (Jed Carlson /

Last year, the Ice Festival cost about $60,000, but this year it was about $40,000 said Linda Cadotte, Parks, Recreation and Forestry director.

The city contributed $31,500 from the hotel and motel fund to the Ice Festival, complemented by a a grant from the Tourism Development Fund.

“There’s no reason we should have a surplus at the end of the year,” Councilor Brent Fennessey said. “We should be pouring that money into different events to try to fill hotels.”

At the end of the year, the fund is projected to have a $75,583 surplus, which has been declining, but has proven handy where various events come up, Paine said.

“It’s a growing festival,” Fennessey said. “At some point, the idea would be to hand this off to some other organization. That time isn’t in the middle of October. The time to have those conversations with another nonprofit to take over this enormous festival should have been three, four, five months ago.”

Cadotte estimated that more than 5,000 people participated in various aspects of the festival this year based on counts by various participating organizations.

Paine said the reserve on the fund, created by spending less than what was taken in, has been diminishing in recent years as expenses have exceeded revenues in the last several years.

Fennessey recommended the Council increase the budget to $40,000 for the Ice Festival.

“It doesn’t make sense to go gung-ho on it for three or four years, then to pump the brakes on it,” Councilor Craig Sutherland said. “To cut the funds on it would be detrimental to it.”

Sutherland said he couldn’t vote in favor of cutting funding for the Ice Festival, planned for Jan. 24-26.

“We need to do this,” Fennessey said.

The decision would reduce the reserve in hotel/motel fund by $27,000.

While there was some question about the Great Lakes Pond Hockey Tournament participating in the festival next year, Superior Area Hockey Association Board President Brian Raygor said the organization will still be participating in the 2020 Ice Festival.

An ice carver works on a piece during the Ice Festival on Barkers Island in 2018.  (Jed Carlson /
An ice carver works on a piece during the Ice Festival on Barkers Island in 2018. (Jed Carlson /

Details for the 2020 Ice Festival are being developed.

With the loss of some sponsors, Cadotte said she expects some changes to the festival next year, which could be good for growing the festival.

“My opinion is if you’re going to keep doing the festival every year, you’ve got to change it up,” Cadotte said. “To do the same thing over and over, people kind of get a little worn out of that.”

Fennessey suggested creating an ice rink off Barker’s Island might be just the ticket for giving families new opportunities to participate.

“We’re going to end up adding different elements,” Cadotte said. “Any good festival would continue to evolve and change. There’s going to be staple things that remain the same because we don’t want to completely change it.”

Cadotte is encouraging anyone with ideas who want to participate to call her at 715-395-7270.

The committee planning the festival is meeting next week, although a date for that meeting hasn’t been set.