Updated Thursday 3:33 a.m.
Citing increased costs and the challenge to locate more sponsors, the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition will no longer be held, the annual event's organizing committee said Wednesday.
The single largest increase in costs in recent years came in the form of San Diego County Sheriff's Department security costs, which went from .
The committee almost canceled the July 2011 competition, but .
At its start in 1980, 30,000 people attended.
By 2011, organizers estimate more than 400,000 people attended, ranking it among Comic-Con, the San Diego County Fair and the largest events held in San Diego County every year.
While there have been incidences in the past when the committee said there is a threat the competition may not happen this year, this is different because the committee has voted unanimously to end the sandcastle competition and to dissolve the organization, said Debbie Longley, chair of the 40-member committee that organizes the event every year.
"It really has been a matter of the economic challenges we've faced in the past as well as the resources. We have tapped out pretty much every resource at this point," Longley said. Current economic conditions and an ongoing lack of volunteers and committee members also played a role, she said in a letter sent to the city.
"It's been a long and heavy weight decision process that we've went through," she said.
Conversations with the Sheriff's Department remained ongoing after the 2011 competition but reduced rates were never discussed, Longley said.
Without further conversations with members of the competition committee it is difficult to say whether or not reduced security costs would have made a difference.
Security costs made up 28 percent of the event's budget. 36 percent of the budget went towards paying $21,000 to the top winners, equipment rental, charitable donations, private security and city services.
What she was willing to speak for on behalf of the rest of the committee was the fact that the decision was not made lightly.
"I grew up in this community. I grew up with the event as well, so it definitely does weigh heavily on myself as well as the rest of the committee," she said. "We've taken pride in what we've done with the event and all the hours and effort put into it and what we brought to the community with it," she said.
"Sometimes you have to make a decision for the better of the organization then continue and face the challenges and worry about what could happen," she said.
Since the vote was taken the decision is final. Additional meetings will still be held to follow through with the final steps to dissolve the 501(c)3.
When asked whether she felt the event has become part of the city's identity, Longley said "Some people think that. Personally I feel Imperial Beach is much more than that, but it has had a significant impact."
The city of Imperial Beach, Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce, South County Economic Development Council and San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau never measured the economic impact of the Sandcastle Competition.
Lunen Vera serves ice cream at next to the pier and knows the competition's impact on business.
"It's pretty much the one weekend a year I know my boss wants all of us here," he said. During the sandcastle competition business multiplies and "we get a constant line pretty much from when we open until 7 p.m.," or until the cafe closes.
Local nonprofits will also feel the sting of no Sandcastle Competition.
was often the recipient of donations from the organizing committee.
Providing parking for people going to the Sandcastle Competition was the largest fundraiser of the year for the South Bay Union School District's Education Foundation.
The Education Foundation hosts fundraisers for programs that assist local students and teachers, and told the SBUSD Board of Trustees that it raised about $42,000 from August 2010 to August 2011, several thousands of which came from parking cars during the sandcastle competition.
"This would be a huge blow to the Foundation’s coffers," said Dana Tomlinson, the Foundation's president and a teacher. "I am hoping that some organization picks up the torch and funds the event."
John Golden, 18, was with friends playing hacky sack and riding bikes near the beach Wednesday evening when he learned the sandcastle competition will come to an end. After moving to Imperial Beach in 2004, he began coming to the Sandcastle Competition every year. He did not understand why the event was ending. Sand is free he said.
He wants the event to continue and suggests prize money for winning sandcastle teams be reduced. Each year $21,000 in prize money is awarded to top teams of sand sculptors, including a $5,000 grand prize.
"Anybody would build sandcastles for $7,000," he said.