Niagara Gazette

November 17, 2012

GLYNN: Falls needs to upgrade 'Festival of Lights'

By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Even should a major corporate sponsor suddenly show up to revive the once-popular "A Festival of Lights," there would be a problem staging that event. 

While it sounds absurd in a city known for its vast power generation, that's precisely the reason it would be virtually impossible to extend the light festival throughout Niagara Falls — a lack of sufficient power.

When the original festival was launched more than 30 years ago in the South End — the prime tourist area — some adjustments were made to illuminate the outdoor displays , especially along Old Falls Street.

After  the "A Festival of Lights" went dark in 2001, organizers tried keeping it alive with drive-through display areas first at Oppenheim Park, Wheatfield, and later along Robbins Drive in Hyde Park, between Porter Road and Pine Avenue

Subsequently, festival organizers hoped to expand the festival and its displays citywide by creating "The Holiday Lights of Niagara Trail." The idea was to form a fully-illuminated route that would begin near the Hyde Park site and continue along Pine Avenue to Main Street, and Third Street to the west end of Old Falls Street, close to the Niagara Falls State Park entrance.

The problem with that, initially discovered in 2011, was the scarcity of electrical hookups for any kind of outdoor displays. In fact, at the Gazebo, 15th Street and Pine Avenue, the connection continually failed.

Jerald Wolfgang, among the chairmen for this year's event — starting Wednesday — said that, unfortunately, at a number of major buildings in the city (e.g. the new Niagara Falls Municipal Complex in the North End, the Earl W. Brydges Library and even City Hall) were built without any consideration for outdoor electric fixtures to power displays for special occasions. Wolfgang added that steps have been taken to encourage new hotels and other such projects to include extended lighting capacity on their properties.

Meanwhile, Wolfgang noted, Dave Kinney, the city's director of public works and parks, spearheaded another effort to make certain there was an adequate power supply for Old Falls Street, especially during the holidays. Others that provided valuable help were National Grid, the Conference Center Niagara Falls, USA Niagara Development and Seneca Nation of Indians.  

Now that Old Falls Street is finally looking classy again, it's probably time to seriously consider restoring the Festival of Lights to the level the city deserves. Such dazzling outdoor events are off-season centerpieces in many communities, large and small.   

The Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights in Wheeling, W.Va., started in 1985, attracts upwards of one million visitors per year, including 30,000 tour buses from 36 states.

Albany's "Capital Holiday Lights in the Park," featuring more than 125 light displays and scenes, offers visitors a drive-through experience ($15), carriage or trolley rides, or a chance to just stroll through Washington Park.  

Rochester and Corning, both within an easy drive of the Falls, also have a variety of family-oriented activities to light up for the holidays. 

Even with those areas all decked out, from late November to Dec. 31, Niagara has the edge: a natural wonder surrounded by the nation's oldest state park. Perhaps, as others say, it would be difficult to replicate "A Festival of Lights" but the stage is taking shape with the downtown improvements. 

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A REMINDER: This year's "Holiday of Lights Niagara Trail" opens at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Sal Maglie Stadium in Hyde Park. It should be a fun night for the whole family. Organizers also hope that business owners along Pine Avenue will spruce up their properties, to create a link downtown for the event that runs through December.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246