Inaugural 'Ice Fest' invigorates Downtown Willoughby

Jan. 21—Despite incessant kvetching about the low temperatures and wild wind, which was absolutely justifiable, hundreds turned out, if anything other than to satisfy bona fide curiosity, for Downtown Willoughby's inaugural "Ice Fest" on Jan. 21.

With carving demos and a featured "Fire and Ice" tower, a go-to standard for winter fête events, the stretch of Erie Street's commercial and residential corridor, neighboring streets, and the forked West Point Park, packed folks in with several specialty ice blocks displaying corporate logos, community emblems, and other area-significant insignias.

And according to Willoughby Mayor Bob Fiala, Ice Fest provides "excellent relief" to the winter doldrums.

"We want this to become a seasonal tradition," he said. "We're hoping it will provide an opportunity for those enduring cabin fever to get outdoors — even if they have to bundle up....and we're excited to have a perfect venue for this event."

While DTW scarcely has issues attracting visitors on the regular, Ice Fest, like other staple-specific events, primarily the Chili Cook and Rib Burn Offs, was, admittedly, a gamble. But Fiala and dedicated sponsors and vendors knew it was one worth taking.

"Similar events have been held in Northeast Ohio with great success," he said. "This tells us that people are looking for that family-friendly, winter-break experience that includes being outdoors and socializing with their neighbors and visitors."

Brendan Kearney, president of the Downtown Willoughby Bar and Restaurant Association, echoed the mayor.

"From the start, we knew this was an opportunity to bring a new event to DTW, and our intention was to add exposure to the district's bars, restaurants, and retail shops during the traditionally slower time of the year, while at the same time bringing a unique experience to for our entire community," he said, noting the atypical weather for "a January."

Additionally, Kearney expressed gratitude to commissioned partners, mainly (Broadview Heights-based) Elegant Ice Creations, which designed regionally-relevant sculptures aligning the thoroughfare.

"This is something that (Mullarkey's Irish Pub owner) John Bowers and Angelo Gallo (Frank and Tony's/Garage Bar owner) have been looking to do for years since attending Medina's Ice Festival," Kearney said, "and we look forward to building off of this gala and learning how we can make it better as a whole."