Lakeshore Road could go dark Christmas of 2012 – Festival of Lights could be discontinued.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  October 3, 2011  A tradition that has brought literally hundreds of people down to Spencer Smith Park during the Christmas Season may not take place in 2012.  The Festival of Lights, developed and done for the city by the Burlington Down Business Association (BDBA) was expected to draw traffic downtown for the merchants.  It certainly drew traffic downtown but not enough of that traffic made its way up Brant Street and into the area shops and restaurants. The BDBA has decided that the event no longer delivers enough for their members for them to continue.

The city contributes $5000. to the project but that is nowhere near what it costs to mount the event which is put on by

Part of the delight of the Christmas season may not be seen in 2012. Downtown merchants can't afford the Festival of Lights.

BBDA members.  They do it all“ explained Chris Glenn, Director of Parks and Recreation, who added that the city lets the association use some of the Roads and Parks Maintenance space to build the lighting exhibits that are put up.

Discussions by the BDBA on what to do with an event that was popular but didn`t deliver the needed economic benefit to the BDBA members took place in August.  At last Monday`s Committee of the Whole meeting Ward 2 councillor Marianne Meed Ward brought up the situation when a report on events in the city  was being discussed and advised that she was going to bring forward a staff direction that would have city hall staff look into possible resolutions to the Festival of Lights predicament.  The event is not a city project and no one at Parks and Recreation appeared anxious to jump in and rescue this event.

And a Staff Direction wasn`t on either.  Meed Ward`s fellow councillors could see no merit in that idea and it got voted down.  The Festival of Lights takes place in Ward 2 and Meed Ward has to find a way to deliver something for her business constituents.  No one jumped in with any ideas or suggestions other than Councillor Jack Dennison who said he and his family walked over to the Festival every year and enjoyed themselves.  But Dennison didn`t say that he wondered up Brant Street and stayed for a meal at one of the restaurants.

And that is the problem.  Spencer Park – a gem if there ever was one, is the focal point for some of the largest festivals in the province.  The Rotary Rib Fest is seen by most people in the tourism business as the Grand Daddy of Rib Fests in the province.  Tens of thousands attend – but they congregate in the park, spend their money there and don’t get very far north of Lakeshore Road.

The retail merchants do all the work and pay for the bulk of the costs for the annual Festicak of Lights - but it no longer delivers the economic benefits the merchants need.

The city doesn`t have any staff sitting on the BDBA committee that runs the Festival and so there wasn`t much in the way of warning to the Parks and Recreation people on the problem.

One of the concerns discussed around the council table is finding a way for a more equitable distribution of events throughout the city.  All the major events take place along the lakes edge and that doesn`t do all that much for retailers sprinkled either side of Brant and up the street to about Caroline.

Meed Ward didn`t leave the Committee of the Whole meeting with very much in hand – this is a can she is going to have to carry on her own.  The lights on Lakeshore Road may not go on during Christmas of 2012.

On the event side of things – the numbers are great.  The city held 78 events so far in 2011 – 52 major and 26 minor events with attendance that ranged from 25 people to 190,000.  Parks and Recreation estimates that 605,000 people attended events in Burlington so far this year.

Grand numbers but they have a lining that is less than silver.  The Latitude restaurant in the Simms building on Elgin just off Brant has closed forever.  Restaurant and retails sales have not fully recovered since the 2008 recession.  People are keeping a tighter grip on their wallets and credit cards.

Burlington has yet to find a formula that will bring customers into the stores and restaurants in the downtown core and many retailers are giving it up.  Store closing have basically equalled store openings so the entrepreneurs that want to give it a go are still out there.

One of the prime concerns is the tax rates that are levied on commercial property.  When a property owner gets hit with a tax increase they pass it right on to the tenant.  The increase in high end condominiums in the downtown core has put pressure on property evaluations which gets translated into increased taxes – and the retail community can`t handle those increases.

The city has a Downtown Task Force looking into the problems.  Councillors Meed Ward and Taylor sit on that Task Force –

Brant Street looking south - needs more hustle and bustle to it.

and they do have their work cut out for them.  While unemployment in the city is not rampant there is still a very soft underbelly that needs to firm up in order for the retailers to make a better go of it.

The Burlington Economic Development Corporation doesn’t appear to be in the picture when it comes to downtown core issues.  Their focus is on bringing high tech, high paying jobs to the city and servicing the needs of organizations and corporations that look at Burlington as a possible head office location.

And that`s where that whole chicken and egg situation comes into play.  Without a really solid, profitable, bustling downtown commercial community the city looks a little drab and doesn`t have that many places one can take a clients out for lunch.   It is the corporate executive class who spend on the lunches and the dinners and because Burlington doesn`t have any Class A office space we have yet to attract much of that community.

And that brought up the question: Where does the Festival of Lights event go from here ?

The cover of the short form Strategic Plan document that is in the process of being taken to the community lists three strategic directions for the city.  Vibrant neighbourhoods, Prosperity and Excellence in Government.  We are falling short on the prosperity side and the Strategic Plan has yet to be approved.



Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.