Holiday season

Downtown Abilene Isn’t As Bright This Holiday Season: Here’s Why

“Strings of streetlights, even stoplights flash bright red and green.”

– “Silver Bells”

This holiday season, the two Christmas primary colors at intersections will provide much of the festive illumination for downtown Abilene.

Those who attended Tuesday night’s Christmas Lights Parade noticed that the holiday lights were noticeably lacking. Some streetlights were also off, but that was another issue.

There was no glow at the Abilene Convention Center, the outdoor tree moved to City Hall this year due to hotel construction. It will be officially lit on Monday evening.

Six blocks south, there are no lights in Everman Park, which for three years has transformed into a winter wonderland.

Not this year.

Who’s the Grinch?

How it all began

Allison Carroll, who operates the Monks Coffee Shop and is a longtime member of the Abilene Downtown Association and the City Sidewalks committee, said fingers shouldn’t be pointed. Instead, hands should be raised to help bring the lights back to 2022.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of City Sidewalks, a downtown event that traditionally follows Thanksgiving, Everman and Minter parks were lit up.

“Let’s go big and do something special,” she said, that was the idea.

With downtown being rediscovered as an entertainment, dining and shopping destination, an investment in holiday brightness was deemed worthwhile.

Matt Robinson and his seasonal business, Christmas Décor, took over and the downtown area lit up.

The result was so well received that it carried over into 2019 and 2020.

“It was great exposure to our sites and a great gift to the community,” Carroll said. “So we brought him back.”

But it costs money.

Who will pay ?

Downtown businesses contributed and local foundations provided funding, Carroll said.

“It’s an expensive business,” she said.

But with businesses struggling to stay in business for two pandemic-hit years, the association struggled to reach out to them for financial support, she said. This is a volunteer effort that requires attention in addition to normal business hours.

“This year has been a tough year for just about everyone, after a particularly tough year,” Carroll said.

The committee felt it best not to request a fundraising effort for the lights this year. Normally, these would be in place for Thanksgiving to bring Abilene visitors downtown and for Small Business Saturday, which follows Black Friday and is when the downtown tree is lit.

The goal is to return the lights and decorations to this time next year.

“We want to be able to get that from the community, and we’re looking at ways to make it an annual holiday lights event,” Carroll said.

Individual effort this year

In the meantime, downtown businesses have been encouraged to do their own thing.

And some have – the exterior of the Center for Contemporary Art is brightly decorated, and there are gingerbread people in sombreros in the windows of The Local. The monks’ window is adorned with “Happy Holidays”.

These are three examples.

Minter Park’s renovated water feature is sometimes colored red and green for the holidays, and Adamson Spalding Storybook Garden is illuminated with more lights than normal for nighttime viewing.

The Abilene Council of Cultural Affairs worked with Christmas Décor to place 12 illuminated reindeer that were placed on poles by Everman Park and The T&P Depot.

Carroll said downtown lighting could be — and should be — considered economic development. Not only does it light up the neighborhood, but it also attracts pedestrians who might possibly enter the businesses for a bite to eat, a beer (or, in his case, a coffee), and perhaps to buy some bling.

“We see this as non-traditional economic development,” she said.

With this in mind, new sources of funding could be exploited.

“We want this to be an opportunity to collaborate with other community partners,” she said.

This has already been done with the installation of new trash cans, a Downtown Association project with the City of Abilene and Goodwill Texas.

And, Carroll said, it would be prudent to seek competitive bids for the effort.

See what other cities are doing

Brent Schroeder, director of emerging businesses at the Abilene Industrial Foundation, studied how other communities are doing downtown lighting projects.

He quickly discovered that cities approach Christmas lights differently — from city and downtown association budget items to public-private or strictly private efforts — and “there’s no right or right wrong way”.

“There’s a bunch of different ways. There’s no secret sauce. What works best for Abilene?” he said. “It’s good to know there are options. We will find that.”

By the way, Schroeder said that during his travels and research, he found Robinson’s lighting franchise to be the best in the business.

“It shows you how much Abilene is putting in,” Schroeder said.

While downtown at night won’t be as bright as it has been for three years, Carroll said getting it right for next December was the right move.

“Hopefully in 2022 we can light up the city center again,” she said.

Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you enjoy local news, you can support local reporters with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.


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