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Jon Wilcox was stressed out the first week of March last year.

The chair of the steering committee of IGNITE, Cayuga County's young professionals group, was glued to weather forecasts. The week started promisingly, with temperatures in the 60s Tuesday and Wednesday. Wilcox, however, was concerned about Friday, the day of his group's annual IGNITE the Winter festival on Exchange Street in downtown Auburn.

He was right to be concerned: That day, temperatures sank into the 20s. And that was the last time IGNITE the Winter would take place outside, Wilcox said.

The cold thinned attendance at last year's street festival so much that IGNITE would have lost money if it wasn't supported by about $5,000 in sponsorships and a $5,000 grant from Sen. John A. DeFrancisco's Arts in Cayuga County program, Wilcox said. Not only were food and beer sales that low, he continued, but the tents blew away and the kegs froze.

"Even the band couldn't play outside because their hands were freezing," Wilcox said. "Guitarists can't wear gloves."

After IGNITE "lost our butts" on last year's festival, Wilcox said, the steering committee considered ending it. The weather had been unbearable three out of the four years Wilcox was with the organization for it. But 2018 will be his last year as the committee's chair: He turns 40 on March 27, aging him out of the young professionals group. So he wanted to keep the festival going.

At first, Wilcox suggested moving IGNITE the Winter indoors to solve the weather problem. But after the Hilton Garden Inn reached out to host it, he said, more aspects of the festival became easier. Now, IGNITE won't have to pay for police, the showmobile stage or port-a-potties, Wilcox said. And the State Street hotel will handle food and beer.

Otherwise, IGNITE the Winter will stay similar in its seventh year.

The festival will take place inside the Hilton Garden Inn's banquet hall and adjoining lobby. On stage will be youth collective Perform 4 Purpose first, and blues rockers Inside Job from 8 to 10 p.m. Family activities will include free caricatures by Brad Cole, face painting by the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, slime-making with Savannah Bank and fake tattoos from Generations Bank.

Despite the new indoor setting, two festival staples will return as well. The chili, soup and chowder cook-off will award $250 prizes and plaques for the best of each type of food, as well as a People's Choice Award. Vendors will include the Hilton Garden Inn, Wild's Eats & Sweets, the Auburn Doubledays, Moro's Table, Parker's Grille & Tap House and more.

And, outside the hotel, Stan Kolonko of the Auburn Ice Farm will sculpt something from ice inspired by the HBO show "Game of Thrones," Wilcox said.

"It's the first year that I don't know what it's going to look like," he said.

But Wilcox does know what the weather is going to be like inside the Hilton Garden Inn — so he's a little less stressed out about his "last run" of IGNITE the Winter.

"I'm pumped," he said.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.