If the annual festive lighting displays at Milt Dunnell Field are going to be continued for any more than a year or two, someone — a service club; a well-funded corporate or business interest; the Town of St. Marys — will have to make them a high priority.
Currently, they’re certainly not high on any priority list.
Town Council received a brief report about the lights at their Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, Sept. 3 —a follow-up to a discussion held in early August about the potential for a sponsorship program for the annual display.
Human Resources manager Kimberly Richardson stated during the August meeting that $94,000 has been raised through the community since the lights first were turned on in 2001, with the Town also contributing a financial share. For the first few years after they first were installed, a big deal was made of the official switching-on.
At this week’s meeting, by contrast, the report from staff begins with the pessimistic statement that “there is limited interest from the community to sponsor the outdoor light display.” As of Aug. 27, 16 organizations had been contacted by Town staff; just three had confirmed a willingness to provide sponsorship dollars.
“We remain hopeful interest,” the report says. “However, if interest does not increase it may result in the need to cancel the display ... or seek additional (Council) support.”
Additional Council support would come only over the objections of Mayor Steve Grose. During the August meeting, CAO Kevin McLlwain asked councillors if the Town should go ahead and begin preparing the displays for installation this fall, and fund it through “surpluses” if the sponsorship idea doesn’t catch on. Grose was quick to respond, stressing that funding was not approved in the 2013-14 budget, and councillors would be setting an ill-advised precedent if they agreed to offset any shortfall.
But to be practical, it seems clear the Winterlights will be turned for the holiday season of 2013-14 — whether through a last-minute Council injection, or a last-minute donor. As Councillor Tony Winter was able to ascertain through questioning, Town staff has already included the lights in promotional material, under the assumption (as McLlwain explained) that the sponsorship would take off.
The long-term reality, though, is that prospective supporters, including the Town, have other priorities. And who can blame them? With other communities having since set up their own displays, and other core programs being whittled to the essentials, the St. Marys Winterlights has definitely lost a lot of its allure.
During the August meeting, it was made clear that Town funding remains in place for downtown holiday decorations. Lingering questions surround only the Winterlights.
And, beyond this year, barring a big-money supporter with ideas to the rejuvenate the concept, the biggest question may be where to dispose of the unused lights, wires and metal frames.