Tree lights could be coming to city's downtown by New Year's Eve

Staff writer

The city’s Economic Development Authority refined its proposal for placing decorative lights around a section of downtown Williamsburg this winter at its monthly meeting Thursday.

Last month, EDA Chairman Adam Steely presented a series of recommendations to City Council on how best to spend $150,000 allotted in the city’s budget to create a more vibrant downtown shopping and dining district.

There, the board authorized the EDA to use $50,000 from the fund to form a grant program to enhance existing and new downtown events, but was hesitant to authorize its plans for string lights that would hang above downtown Williamsburg on poles.

Instead, the EDA plans to return to City Council at its December work session with a proposal to install string lights on the trunks and branches of trees along two blocks of Prince George Street between North Henry Street and Armistead Avenue.

Yuri Adams, the city’s economic development specialist, said the EDA also received permission from the College of William and Mary to install lights in the trees surrounding Brown Hall dormitory on Prince George Street and the College Apartments on 114 N. Boundary St.

Adams said the Economic Development Office staff received three proposals for the tree lights. At the meeting, the board agreed to explore a proposal from electrical company Luxterra, which suggested using battery-powered lights at a cost of $2,982 for 10 trees. She said the cost would even out to $298 per tree with 50 lights per tree.

The battery-powered lights are weather resistant and could either stay on all day and all night or operate in six hour cycles, she said.

“This is just a test run. We’re still figuring out if this is what this body wants, what council wants,” Adams said. “Council can give us the funds to go ahead and put these in the trees, then we can explore a more permanent solution that might be more expensive but would be longer-lasting.”

The board agreed the tree lights should match holiday lights planned to be placed around Colonial Williamsburg and Merchants Square to create a unified feeling across the entire downtown Williamsburg area.

“The reason I like this is that it’s not permanent. I love the idea of a pilot just to get a sense of feedback from people, and I also like the fact that it ties into the Merchants Square area,” said board member David Trichler.

If approved by City Council, EDA Vice-Chairman Rick Overy said he hopes the lights will all be installed by Dec. 30, with plans to keep them year-round.

“Lighting is an important element for vitality, they have an impact on safety and they’ll help our downtown businesses get through those dark winter months,” he said.

The board plans to present the revised light proposal to City Council at its Dec. 10 work session, and expects council to vote on the proposal at its next regular meeting on Dec. 13.

At the meeting, the board also approved an application for its new $50,000 downtown special event grant program.

Overy said $10,000 is planned to establish new events in the city’s downtown, while the rest will be used to enhance existing events, such as An Occasion for the Arts, the Winter Blues Jazz Festival and Colonial Williamsburg’s Fourth of July celebration.

Potential grantees can submit applications to the city’s Economic Development Office, where staff members and a downtown special event subcommittee of the EDA will review requests and prepare recommendations for review at the following EDA meeting.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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