Winterfest a Success

The BOK Center’s first Winterfest has already been a hit with the public as thousands have visited the ice rink on Frisco Avenue, west of the arena.
Plans are to enlarge the ice rink, bring in more concessions and expand the live entertainment schedule, said Jeff Nickler, Special Events Manager for the BOK Center.
“In our opening week, we had more than 3,500 ice skaters,” Nickler said. “When we officially opened the rink on Nov. 29, there were more than 100 people waiting in line to christen the ice.”
SMG officials have been thrilled with the numbers so far. Nickler said upcoming promotions like “High School Night” and “Skate with the Oilers” are likely to maintain the high attendance. SMG manages the 18,000-seat BOK Center.
The project came together in a matter of weeks, said Don Walker, president and CEO of Arvest Bank, which is the primary sponsor.
“Without the generous support of our corporate sponsors, this year’s celebration would not be possible,” Nickler said. “Don Walker has been a wonderful friend to the community and really stepped up to make Winterfest 2008 a reality. Don shares our mission of bringing new life and new energy to downtown Tulsa, and we hope Winterfest grows into an annual event and continues to draw thousands of people to downtown.”
Walker heard about the idea two years ago.
“It was talked about as a possible project by local business owners, city leadership and DTU,” Walker said. The idea for bringing in the ice rink came from a setup in Owensboro, Ky., Nickler said.
“BOK Center General Manager John Bolton originally saw the idea at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro,” Nickler said. “He thought it would be a perfect fit for downtown Tulsa.”
Bolton has plenty of experience working with outdoor venues. He was the executive director of the RiverPark Center, a multiple-venue property in Owensboro. Bolton, a Certified Facility Executive, also worked at Evansville, Ind., serving as the general manager of four venues: Roberts Stadium, the Centre, Victory Theater, and Mesker Amphitheater.
The project’s success comes from the natural fit, using the outdoor plaza, which complements the line-up of holiday shows like Casting Crowns Christmas Celebration, Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, scheduled for Dec. 29.
The budget for Winterfest has been $115,000, plus costs associated with bringing a temporary power service to the outdoor ice rink location, Nickler said. Winterfest has 17 part-time employees.
This year’s location was determined by the cost associated with bringing in a temporary power service for the ice rink.
“Frisco Street was the most cost-efficient option and required the least amount of labor on the part of AEP/PSO,” he said.
Long-term, organizers will have a lot of money to grow the event, Walker said.
“I want the rink to be larger. Our investment was worth the risk of letting people see it. And hopefully, we will find additional sponsors,” said Walker.
Winterfest has been popular because it is an affordable activity for the entire family, Nickler said.
“There is really something for everyone, whether it is a horse-drawn carriage ride, concessions, ice skating or free live entertainment,” he said. “Also, it is just an enchanting and nostalgic experience coming downtown and skating under the skyline.”
Walker echoed Nickler’s comment. Arvest supports Winterfest because it brings Tulsans downtown. And, while Mayfest attracts crowds downtown in a four-day period in springtime, Winterfest has the potential to bring thousands downtown over a span of four weeks.
“I like the idea of families having something to do throughout the holiday season,” Walker said. “We felt it was a great opportunity to promote downtown again.
It was a risk to launch this year, with the rough last two months,” he said.
“It has been a tough year to start, with the market and economy being like it was,” Walker said. “I felt it was in our community’s best interest to get it started. It gets Tulsans and people throughout the region to see and experience downtown — the restaurants and many events — either at the BOK Center or the Brady Theater, the Performing Arts Center or Cain’s.”
Next year, Winterfest will be at the same location or adjacent to the arena on Third Street.
SMG Tulsa has benefited from media sponsors who have promoted the event. Arvest Bank has been this year’s presenting sponsor. Other lead sponsors are Reasor’s, Flintco and Manhattan Construction. Live entertainment sponsor has been Bank of Oklahoma. Silver Sponsors are Tulsa Ballet, McNellie’s/ElGuapo, Cox Communications, Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and Cubic Inc.



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