TREASURE ISLAND — If a pandemic wasn’t enough to contend with, when Tropical Storm Eta landed on Pinellas County shores unexpectedly last week, Sanding Ovations organizers were left with two feet of standing water and the question of whether or not the 12th annual event could even take place.

After days of reimagining and rebuilding, Treasure Island and event officials announced Nov. 16 that yes, the show would go on.

Professional sand sculptor and co-organizer of the event Meredith Corson said this year’s group of sculptors have banded together in the face of COVID-19 and a tropical storm to create a new display that will please crowds and respect social distancing.

“We are all working together,” Corson said. “This year we can make bigger displays without a time limit, which is great.

“We want people to come out and laugh,” she continued. “We want them to have a good time.”

Traditionally a competition, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizers to rethink the event. This year’s Sanding Ovations will be an invitational exhibition, showcasing sand sculptures by artists all across North America. The sculptures are set up on the beach at the intersection of 104th Ave. and Gulf Blvd. For the first time in 12 years, the event will have a theme — Sandhenge.

“It’s our take on Stonehenge,” Corson said.

Justin Tramble, assistant director of the city’s parks and recreation department, said the decision to transform the event into an exhibition was primarily due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“In years past this has been an international competition,” Tramble said. “COVID has made it extremely difficult to get international sculptors here.”

Tramble said city officials have developed a plan that addresses COVID-19 and incorporates CDC guidelines.

According to that plan, vendors spaces will be set up apart and no merchandise can be sold in the 6-foot area between tents. Vendors will also be responsible for self-monitoring their vendor space to ensure adequate social distancing measures are adhered to.

This year, the main stage has been eliminated and in its place will be two platform stages, which will be installed for smaller performances and entertainment. Entertainment will also include mobile/roving performances by local bands.

The event will adhere to Pinellas County Ordinance 20-14 on face coverings if in effect during the event. Staff, bartenders and volunteers will be encouraged to wear masks. Hand sanitizing stations will be installed throughout the event area, especially at all main entrances/exits.

In lieu of port-o-lets, the city will be utilizing restroom trailers with hand washing sinks.

The Veteran’s Fall Fly Kite Festival has been incorporated into the event. The kites will be flown north of the sand sculptures.

Tramble said that despite this year’s challenges, he knows the event will be a success.

“It’s something our business community and our residents seem to be rooting for,” he said.

The exhibition will be open Thursday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Friday, Nov. 20 and Saturday, Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A late-night program featuring lighted displays, a DJ and night kite flying will kick off at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

A fireworks display will be held Saturday at 8 p.m.

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