It was starting to look like an empty sandbox.
A year-and-a-half after it was announced, and months after the sculptures were complete, the International Sand Sculptures Exhibition inside the former Niagara Falls Memorial Arena went unseen and unappreciated.
On Friday, the doors finally opened. Officially.
“It feels great,” said spokesman Denis Fedotov of V2 Niagara Inc., the Russian-based consortium which purchased the shuttered arena in early 2012. “A little nervous, because today rubber meets the road. We swim or we sink, but we’re going to do it as a team.”
Just past 10 a.m., the first paying customers arrived. Edmonton’s Karen Matvij and her two daughters Kala and Brooke heard about the exhibition from a Niagara Falls friend.
“He just mentioned that they had turned the arena into (a place) for sand sculptures, so we just wanted to come and see,” says Matvij, a former Niagara Falls resident. “I think it’s amazing.”
“It’s pretty cool,” added Kala.
As the attraction’s very first customers, they were presented with free CDs from the gift shop.
The attraction will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Promotion has been amped up in recent days, says Fedotov, who realizes there’s ground to make up after a series of frustrating delays.
Most of them stemmed from unforeseen fire code issues. After $2 million in repairs to the rickety arena, the owners were told the massive banners which surround the exhibit also had to be treated so they were fireproof.
The longer the doors remained closed, the more problems arose. Fedotov walked in one morning to see one of the sculptures damaged by water (“both of his legs were gone”).
“The arena was pretty famous for a bad roof, and that’s the one thing that took a lot of (the owner’s) investment.”
The attraction is owned V2 Niagara Inc. president Alexay Glukhov, who last month promised “one hundred percent” the attraction would finally open Friday.
The exhibition consists of 25 sculptures molded from 3 million kilograms of sand by 17 artists. They’re displayed in a 16,000-square-foot area.
Admission is $16 adults, $13 students and $11 children. Kids eight and under are free.
A free preview of the attraction was held for local residents last March, but it then promptly shut its doors again.
Now that it’s open, Fedotov expects the same War of 1812-themed sculptures to be on display for at least a year.