WILMINGTON — The historic Riverwalk will be a bit brighter this year with added holiday lighting along the Cape Fear River.
Wilmington Downtown Inc. is launching a pilot program to install more Christmas lighting downtown to further attract residents and visitors to the central business hub during the holiday season. The city already puts up roughly 70 wreaths on light posts along Front, Third and Castle streets every Nov. 1 and illuminates a snowflake display welcoming visitors downtown at Market and Second streets. It also hosts the downtown tree- and menorah-lighting ceremonies each November and December.
But a group of downtown business owners approached WDI with a plan to do more.
“Downtown Wilmington is experiencing a notable resurgence, and there is a collective enthusiasm coming from our community to showcase its holiday spirit,” WDI vice president Christina Haley told Port City Daily.
The goal is to light up areas in historic downtown from the foot of Market Street and along the Riverwalk between Market and Dock streets. The Riverwalk hand railings and 16 lamp posts will be outfitted with multicolor LED lights, the visitors centers and its posts will have warm white LED lights, and there will be green LED lights over the steel and fused glass Venus Flytrap sculptures — created by Paul Hill and located at the corner of Water and Market streets.
Lighting will also be installed on the two large oak trees in front of the JW Brooks building on Water Street.
Haley said she is modeling her vision off riverfront displays in Florida’s St. Petersburg and Tampa, as well as San Antonio, Texas.
“As WDI advances initiatives to boost economic development, I remain dedicated to deepening our engagement in building festive traditions with our partners, emphasizing the vibrancy of our downtown business community,” Haley said.
WDI received four proposals for light installation — ranging from $19,500 to $283,850 — two of which were from film industry crews out of work due to the writers’ and actors’ strikes.
“We were trying to support film industry workers during challenging times,” Haley said. “The project committee believed that the skills of set design could be well-utilized in designing a large Christmas lights display. Unfortunately, one film contractor’s proposal exceeded our budget, and the other couldn’t meet our insurance requirements for the project.”
WDI chose Double Check Pressure Washing for $26,700, which includes light installation, service calls to be answered within 48 hours and the lights’ removal. Service calls are free for any malfunctioning lights, but there is a $100 charge for destruction by an individual plus costs associated with replacement parts.
WDI has purchased new lighting, shipped directly to Double Check, to own and use in the future.
Haley told city council during an agenda briefing Monday morning she was able to compile $40,000, which covers the cost of the lighting and installation, plus any possible replacement parts needed throughout the season.
$15,000 came from WDI’s budget, $15,000 from the municipal services district, which collects a separate tax, and $10,000 from Bring it Downtown. The latter is managed by WDI and serves as a marketing and promotion initiative.
Light installation is anticipated to begin Tuesday, Nov. 28, and take about a week. The lights will remain lit through Jan. 19 when they’re removed.
Haley hopes to expand on the design next year, but it would mean city engineering improving infrastructure to overcome electrical challenges. The original proposal was intended to cover 19 oak trees with lights along Market Street between Water and Front streets; however, the electrical outlets did not provide sufficient power, Haley said.
There were also infrastructure issues south of Anne Bonny’s restaurant along the Riverwalk, so lighting will stop at the floating barge this year.
Mayor pro tem Margaret Haynes and council member Luke Waddell both expressed concerns about the lack of electrical output along Market Street to accommodate Christmas lights.
“I do hope we will move forward with trying to make sure Market Street can accommodate future lighting,” Haynes said. “We used to have it years ago and for some reason we don’t. Perhaps it’s the electrical dearth; maybe we’ll find money to increase that.”
The goal also is to coordinate future illumination with the city’s downtown Christmas tree lighting at Water and Market streets, which occurs annually the Friday after Thanksgiving.
As a separate initiative, WDI is encouraging business owners to decorate and light up their storefronts this year. Downtown Business Alliance hosts a holiday decorating contest for the entire downtown district as well. Monetary awards and plaques are given to the best overall display, brightest lights, two honorable mentions and a people’s choice.
WDI is collaborating with the Wilmington CVB, Downtown Business Alliance and Wilmington Area Chamber of Commerce to propose a similar plan for downtown holiday decorations in the future but on a greater scale.
“The hope is that this pilot initiative will pave the way for a more elaborate display and additional funding in the coming years,” Haley said.
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