WESTBROOK — The now-gone ice disk was beyond any economic developer’s wildest dreams, shining local, national and international attention on the city and its riverfront downtown.
The disk, estimated to be 300 feet wide and spinning, melted and floated down the Presumpscot last week, but not before giving Westbrook some extraordinary publicity.
“The phenomenon is so special. You couldn’t have dreamt it up,” said Westbrook Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson.”Not only did it bring us global attention, locally it (made) a lot of people who pass through or live here realize how vibrant our downtown can be.”
“That is what our downtown should be every day of the week,” he said.
First spotted in the river Jan. 14, the ice disk kept downtown “abuzz,” Stevenson said. “All the restaurants did well, the other merchants did well,” he said.
Right in the heart of downtown, its location couldn’t have been better.
“I will remember how fortuitous it was for us to have a unique natural phenomenon form right in the downtown, right in the exact vicinity we are working diligently to promote,” said Tina Radel, the city’s marketing and communications manager.
Abigail Cioffi, executive director of Discover Downtown Westbrook, said it was “incredible” to see all the people who came to the Riverwalk to view the ice disk. She’d love to find a way to attract that level of activity every January, she said.
“It is fascinating to watch Westbrook repeatedly make international news because of these events. They are all things you would never expect, and I think that’s part of the magic of it,” she said. “There is also magic in events that naturally bring people together. January in Maine is not usually a time that people get out of the house and meet up with other people, but the ice disk made that happen. We would love to hold some sort of event that captures that feeling every January, even though the disk won’t be here.”
Radel said she hopes the experience people had while viewing the disk is not something they forget.
“I honestly think it will have a lasting impact. People had to park and get out of their cars and walk over to the river’s edge to see the ice disk, and I think they were pleasantly surprised about what downtown Westbrook has to offer,” she said.
The ice disk was first reported Jan. 14 by Rob Mitchell, who owns a commercial office building at 17 Ash St. It didn’t take long for people to notice. Local media outlets picked up the story and by the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 16, Mayor Mike Sanphy was being interviewed on Good Morning America. Radel said she got a crash course in viral nature of social media. Her drone images of the ice disk posted on Facebook were published in newspapers and websites all over the country, including nationalgeographic.com, the New York Times, Boston Herald and the Guardian and Daily Mail newspapers in England.
Radel said since Jan. 14 she has fielded hundreds of calls and emails from media outlets looking for the latest on the disk.
“The media followed the evolution of the ice disk all the way through from its appearance, to when it got stuck, to the person in the kayak setting it free, to the guy with the chainsaw and ax and finally the melting of it. It was kind of a wild ride and the world wanted to know,” she said.
Westbrook resident Rebbecca Tuck said her greatest memory of the ice disk is the spotlight it provided to her friend, who was one of the first to capture a video of it spinning.
“What I’ll remember most about the ice disc is that my friend Adam Farnsworth’s video went viral, and how much that meant to him,” Tuck said.
Farnsworth’s video, taken during the evening of Jan. 14, was picked up by a number of media outlets, including CBS affiliates in Boston, Denver and Pittsburgh and a NBC affiliate in Tennessee.
Radel’s and Farnsworth’s captures of the ice disk were included in the BBC’s reporting.
Sue Ledoux, a former Westbrook resident who now lives in Windham, noted the appearance of a heart in the middle of the disk and said she saw that as a sign from her son, TJ, who drowned in the Presumpscot River in February 2016. In addition, she said, necklace a friend bought her after TJ’s death looked just like the disk that formed.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews
The famous Westbrook ice disk has melted away, but city officials would like to capture the “vibrancy” it brought to downtown.
The ice disk created quite the buzz for downtown Westbrook in January, attracting people from near and far and being broadcast and written about in new outlets all over the world.