Organizers of the planned Lights of the Northwoods holiday display told the city's parks, buildings and grounds committee Monday they hope to run a four-day "proof of concept" event this December at Hodag Park.
The organizing group's vice president Shawn Will presented the committee with its business plan for the event, which will be used as a way to collect food for the local food pantry.
"The mission of Lights of the Northwoods is to feed the hungry of the Northwoods, enhance the health and quality of life for children, youth, adults and elderly of the area," Will said. "We would like to create a festive atmosphere for the community to enjoy and to benefit area businesses. There is no question that a quality community lighting display can reap many benefits for the community. Not only will it allow people to come together, it will increase community pride and give friends and neighbors alike the opportunity to come together and enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season."
Many area businesses would also benefit from the increased traffic and the park would have another use, he added.
Will said that the organizers, a non-profit organization currently operating under the financial oversight of the Rhinelander Lions Club, have started the application process for 501 (c) (3) status, and hope to be independent by next fall.
The group hopes to have enough money raised through donations and sponsorships to have a scaled down, "preview version" of the event between Dec. 14-17.
The group is in the process of submitting the formal paperwork to file with the city to hold the event on those dates.
"What we're looking for is for permission for an evening event at Hodag Park sometime between Dec. 14-17. This would be a preview event, to give people an idea of what Lights of the Northwoods will look like in years to come," Will said. "Trees that are already in the park will be decorated, and other trees will be brought in and decorated by school groups. Metal and inflatable displays will be stationed throughout the park and holiday music will be played during the event. Admission will be free with a good will donation of non-perishable food items."
Will said the group's steering committee will coordinate volunteers and direct fundraising efforts. He said the majority of the funding will come from grants and donations from area businesses and individuals.
There are plans for five levels of donations ranging from $50 to $1,000. Fundraising will be going on all year and money collected at the gate will go toward ongoing expenses such as electricity and the purchase and repair of displays.
"At this time, we see no reason for the city to spend any money whatsoever," Will noted, adding that a number of area electrical firms have made the commitment to install the necessary infrastructure upgrades at Hodag Park to enable the event to take place.
"The project can provide the infrastructure to make the park a better place year-round for all attendees, not just for the holiday display," Will said.
Committee chair Sherrie Belliveau said the project was approved several months ago "in theory," provided the organizers could provide the business plan that they submitted. She said the group would have to coordinate with the police department to help coordinate traffic flow, and the committee would like to see a site plan to explain how it would help minimize the congestion.
"I also think it might be good if you contact the surrounding neighbors," Belliveau said.
Alderwoman Dawn Rog questioned if having the preview event this December was within what the committee had previously approved.
"The group that was here before said they would really like to wait until the winter of 2017-18 due to it being relatively short notice," Rog said. "The other thing is I think it is important that if this goes through, as part of the process, the neighbors will have to be consulted," she said. "I think the neighbors would be concerned. I think it would be nice if you were to put out a flyer that would be able to answer some of the questions people might have."
Belliveau said the original suggestion that the event would start in 2018 was due to the group might not being able to fundraise enough money to pull it off this year.
"I'm not opposed to doing a mini-display if all your ducks were in a row," Belliveau said.
"The purpose of the mini-display is kind of an act of faith to show the city that there would be an interest for this type of event,' Will replied. "So we could do a minor event this year, demonstrating, I guess, what you could call a proof of concept. Yes, they do want to do something, let's see if we can draw people to it."
Rog also questioned when the displays would be taken down.
"You're talking December and then you're done by Christmas?" Rog asked.
"It would all come down in a matter of two or three days after the event ends," Will replied. "It would be up less than a week before the event started and down less than a week after the event ended."
When asked what would happen if some of the displays were frozen into the ground, Will said they would "make an effort" to make sure that doesn't happen.
"Because that's more labor for us," he noted.
He said all of the displays and decorations used for the event would be owned and stored by the group, again reiterating that the organizers were not looking for any investment from the city to hold the event.
Belliveau also pointed out that the preview event might generate some enthusiasm in the community that results in donations.
"And that was the intent of the preview," Will said.
The event will remain on the parks committee agenda going forward.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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