The three-day outdoor festival returns to Campus Martius with more ice, less snow and a bevy of food trucks

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In an effort to attract more attendees, the Meridian Winter Blast will be earlier this year, moving from February to the last weekend of the North American International Auto Show, Jan. 20-22.

“This takes us back to our first year when we were a trial run for the Super Bowl ... and had great success and a lot of cross-promotion,” says Winter Blast organizer Jon Witz, referring to 2005 when the Winter Blast was in January. The following year it was in February to coincide with Detroit’s hosting of Super Bowl XL, and it’s been held in February ever since.

“This is, I think, a big move for Detroit, because when you take over 100,000 people that week, you give them an opportunity to extend their stay and plan a day or plan a weekend,” said Witz, adding that anyone with an auto show stamp can gain free admission to Winter Blast the same day.

Witz says around 45,000-50,000 people attended a brutally cold Winter Blast in 2016, and he hopes that by coupling with the auto show to increase attendance by 20 percent.

Because of the earlier dates, organizers had to make another major change this year by replacing snow with ice, which is more manageable.

“There are some challenges,” said Witz. “We’re doing other things we can control, like ice. We can prepare and build a lot of the ice blocks, where with the snow we needed three days of steady cold. The ice gives us more flexibility.”

Dog sledding and shoe shoeing activities are gone, and in their place are ice attractions such as the Bedrock Ice Maze and Ice Bar. Located at the south end of the festival, the 30-by-40-foot maze will be crafted from large ice blocks. At night, a 16-foot bar completely made from ice, along with ice tables and chairs, will be used to serve drinks from ice carafes as electronic DJs provide music.

More ice can be found at the Ice Garden with sculptures including Wonder Woman and LEGO Batman.

Free ice skating returns this year for all three days of the festival, sponsored by St. John Providence. There will also be exhibitions and performances by local skating clubs.

The popular Meridian Winter Slide will be a tube in 2017 instead of being made of snow. Hitting speeds of up to 20 mph, the new slide is 30 feet high and drops sliders at a 40-degree angle (there’s a 30-degree drop option for children and those less adventurous).

For more adrenaline-pumping fun, the MetroPCS Zipline Adventure returns. The 20-second ride soars two people at a time, 34 feet in the air from atop Cadillac Square.

Sustenance will be provided in the form of food trucks stationed on Monroe near the Hard Rock Cafe, replacing last year’s “Taste of Detroit” food tent. Confirmed vendors include Beans & Cornbread, pizza and Italian delights from Bigalora, Buffy’s Mexi-cation Grill, Chef in a Box, sandwiches from Hero or Villain Deli, Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches from Matt & Mo’s, healthy options from Nosh Pit, Soaring Eagle Cuisine Machine and gourmet hash browns from Shredderz.

The Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons will both have a presence at the event in a tent on Woodward named the Detroit Interactive Sports Zone, with photo and autograph opportunities with alumni players and other interactive activities.

More details on the sports zone and a schedule of local musical acts will be released next month.

Looking beyond 2017, Witz says he hopes to make Winter Blast even bigger for 2018 by adding nationally known musical acts.

“This is the beginning for more positive changes,” he said. “There’s really a lot of energy behind the festival as there is energy behind downtown itself.”

The 2016 Winter Blast, Feb. 12-14, focused on raising funds for the Flint Child Health and Development fund through its Sing, Skate and Slide campaign. The initiative raised just over $10,000 and title sponsor Meridian Health Plan donated an additional $40,000.

February’s admission fees raised $7,500 for Matrix Human Services, plus 12,200 pounds of food and more than 1,000 books that were distributed to local needy families.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

2017 Meridian Winter Blast

Campus Martius Park

800 Woodward, Detroit

(248) 541-7550 or winterblast.com

4-11 p.m. Jan. 20; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Jan. 21; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Jan. 22

Admission: $3, three non-perishable food items or a children’s book. Items will be donated to local people in need. Free, same-day admission for patrons of the North American International Auto Show.

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