Future partnership? County council updated on Winter WonderFEST

LEWES – Festive, holiday spirit will be back on visual and ice-slick display with Winter WonderFEST – a seven-week festival encompassing the Cape region.

Produced by nonprofit Festival of Cheer, Inc., Winter WonderFEST features a light spectacular at Cape Henlopen State Park with more than 60 light displays along a 1.5-mile drive, augmented by Christmas Village at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal grounds.

Christmas Village features ice skating at the temporary Visit Delaware Ice Rink, amusement rides, live music and other attractions.

“Our primary mission is to create cultural events that transform and enrich our community,” said Peter Briccotto, Festival of Cheer executive producer in a July 31 presentation to Sussex County Council. “Our secondary mission is to take the proceeds from those events and reinvest them in our community via our community grant funds.”

Winter WonderFEST was first launched in November 2016.

Last December, it landed Southern Delaware Tourism’s award in the “Best New Event” category.

“It’s a great event,” said Southern Delaware Tourism Executive Director Scott Thomas. “It’s actually starting a whole new wintertime tradition, just like Sussex County provides in the summertime.”

The event is supported by more than 100 sponsors and production partners and is armed with approximately 200 volunteers.

This year, Winter WonderFEST will run from Nov. 17 through New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31. A grand opening celebration is set from Nov. 17-19.

In 2017, Winter WonderFEST attracted more than 60,000 visitors from 31 states after welcoming over 45,000 guests from 26 states in its 2016 debut.

More than $100,000 was awarded to Sussex County nonprofit organizations from the 2016 event and another $27,000 was presented to Sussex charities in 2017.

Festival of Cheer banks on financial and in-kind support and volunteers in staging Winter WonderFEST.

“We want to be able to expand what we offer during the festival season. This year we are keeping it pretty much the same, so we can really make sure we perfect how we operate,” said Mr. Briccotto. “But looking at years going on we’ll certainly want to expand what we offer to the visitors so that we can continue to make this a regional event.”

Mr. Briccotto made no specific request to council during his July 31 PowerPoint presentation.

“I would guess that somewhere here … there is an ask?” said county council president Michael Vincent. “Do we know what the ask is?”

“We would like to have a partnership established with the county. We feel that this is a regional event that will go for decades to come,” said Mr. Briccotto. “We don’t have a specific ask today … but certainly with our capital campaign and operating we will appreciate any partnership that can be established.”

“We’d like to have a conversation and see if this is something we can assist you with,” said Mr. Vincent, who directed Mr. Briccotto submit a written proposal to Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson and Sussex County Finance Director Gina Jennings for review. “And we’ll start the conversation.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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