Halloween has not come yet, but work is already in progress for Columbia’s downtown Christmas celebration that organizers hope will draw more than 200,000 people through a month-long series of events.
The Board of Aldermen unanimously voted on Oct. 17 to accept a proposal from Experience Columbia LLC for $275,000, using part of the tourism tax proceeds, to once again light up downtown in a display that drew attention to Columbia from both near and far in 2018.
Kristian Agoglia, who established Experience Columbia earlier this year to promote events downtown, said electrical work has already begun and lights will start being hung up this week. Anyone who wants to volunteer to help can call his office at Look Greats Services at (601) 736-0037.
The season will kick off Dec. 7 with the Kiwanis Club’s annual Christmas parade. After the parade the town will be lit up.
In addition to the parade and the initial lighting of downtown, events will be held the weekends of Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 and Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 beginning at 5 p.m. Events will also be held on Christmas Day and Friday, Dec. 27. A special New Year’s Eve celebration will also be held that will include a band, fireworks, food vendors and beverage vendors.
Per the proposal that aldermen accepted, Experience Columbia will partner with Main Street Inc., the Marion County Development Partnership, downtown merchants and event volunteers for the different events planned each weekend.
The trolley will run again like last year at the same rate of $5 per ride. It will be run with volunteers and managed by Experience Columbia staff. There will also be food vendors, photo opportunities, merchant sales, vendors, entertainment and, the children’s favorite, train rides.
Music will again be played from the speakers along Main Street with some possibly being installed on Second Street as well, according to the proposal. A minimum of five songs will be synced with the lights this year.
The intersection of Second and Main Streets will again host a 35-foot, pre-lit Christmas tree featuring some 3,000 lights. On the other side of the intersection is the Main Street building that will be decorated in lights and have a lighted North Pole sign in front with additional decorations.
Along the roofline of the buildings will be approximately 3,300 linear feet of roof lighting along Main and Second streets. There will be 172 linear feet of lighting on the small, former police station and 1,190 linear feet on the courthouse, including a decorative design for the courthouse dome.
Main Street will have 20 light poles and Second Street will have eight light poles that will be decorated with double-sided, 60-inch pre-lit wreaths. The wreaths as well as the lights on the poles will be programmed with the light show. Plus 40 trees will be decorated from Church Street to the courthouse, and the trees in the four corners of the Main and Second Street intersection will all be synced with the light show.
The Church on Main and other vendors will provide holiday fare like kettle corn, candied apples and hot and cold beverages. Experience Columbia also plans to provide free Wi-Fi for the guests, the proposal says.
Experience Columbia will coordinate with the city’s department heads, Police Chief Michael Kelly and Fire Chief Jeff McKenzie, to ensure safety, crowd control, medical/triage area and traffic control.
The city will be providing barricades, waste collection and crowd and traffic control.
Last year it was estimated between 8,000 to 10,000 people were downtown just for the Christmas parade and 60,000 overall during the holiday season. It did not take long before the word got out and people from all over the area were coming to experience the extravaganza, including statewide elected officials.
Estimated attendance for this year, according to the proposal, includes 100 volunteers, 12,000 for the parade, 4,000 each night during the weekend events and 10,000 for the New Year’s Eve event.
Agoglia said the Christmas celebration is intended to boost commerce downtown and encourage people to open businesses in the downtown area. He also said he would love to see seasonal pop-up businesses fill some of the empty buildings along Main Street.