TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — The Sanding Ovations festival is back, transforming the beach behind the Bilmar Beach Resort in Treasure Island into a giant sand masterpiece.
The free event is one of the first major events to be held on Florida’s shoreline since the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is helping local businesses rebound from the shutdown for the first time in months.
Local leaders are on a mission to prove they can host a major event like Sanding Ovations safely while also keeping our local businesses alive.
This year’s festival runs through Sunday, November 22. The theme is “sand henge,” and the sand sculptures feature everything from a giant mastodon to the first “round earth society” meeting.
“We just want people to come out here and laugh and smile,” said organizer Meredith Corson Doubleday.
Vendor Marco Friedman of Freak and Chic can’t help but smile. It is only he and his wife’s second event since March, and he says making ends meet hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of shows have been canceled into this winter. But we know we’re just gonna stick with it and persevere,” Friedman said.
Friedman says the festival is a second chance to rebound from the pandemic.
“It keeps us alive. Keeps us going. It gives us a good sense that there’s a future,” he added.
At the Bilmar Beach Resort, rooms are 70% booked.
“We’re just happy to be here. Crowds are a little lighter, but that’s okay,” said General Manager Clyde Smith.
Typically, Sanding Ovations brings in a $6 million economic impact over the four-day event, according to Corson Doubleday. This year is expected to be a little different, but it comes at a perfect time as businesses struggle to survive, says Roger Jones, the Food and Beverage General Manager at Sloppy Joe’s.
“It’s very important that we keep the businesses going and keep people employed. Our servers are anxious to socialize safely with customers and make a little money. ”
Event organizers hope to make Sanding Ovations an example for other festivals to follow. This year’s event is cashless, and Space Force volunteers are making sure everyone keeps their space on the sand.
It’s a mission that’s made a lot easier since it’s held on the widest beach on the West Coast of Florida.
“The two messages we want to send is we’re open, but we’re open safely,” Smith elaborated.
The event also features live music and fireworks to enjoy.
As for parking, your best option is to take a $5 shuttle. It runs every 15 minutes from Treasure Bay and the Paradise Lutheran Church.
The free event goes until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 6 p.m. on Sunday.
The sculptures will stay up on the beach behind the Bilmar Beach Resort through January.