Santa Parade could get major makeover

Hyack association wants giant Christmas tree and light show

The Hyack Festival Association is proposing to replace the Santa Claus Parade of Lights with a festival featuring a musical light show and a giant Christmas tree.

Ron Unger, a director with the association, said Hyack has held its Christmas parade for 15 years, but it's been attracting fewer entries in recent years as many are opting to attend the Santa Claus Parade in Vancouver. He presented an overview of the conceptual plans for the Christmas Parade of Lights Festival to city council at its Aug. 27 meeting.

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Unger said the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area supports a "different model" because the parade negatively impacts parking and access to their businesses.

Instead of the Santa Claus Parade of Lights, Hyack is proposing an event that would be based around a tree-lighting event at Hyack Square.

The event would include entertainment, food, a photo booth where kids could have their pictures taken with Santa Claus and a marketplace featuring vendors and artists.

"We believe this is an event that could be expanded upon and become more significant over time," he said.

The city and Hyack explored the idea of creating an artificial skating rink at Hyack Square, Unger said, but it was agreed that there wasn't enough space at Hyack Square. It's thought there are other locations in the downtown that could be considered when the event expands in future years.

While a Christmas tree has been set up in Hyack Square in past years, Unger said Hyack envisions a larger tree that creates more of an ambiance and appeal to draw people to the area.

He noted that 50-foot artificial tree erected in Surrey last year became the centerpiece for that community's Christmas celebration and attracted many people to Surrey.

Unger pointed out that the Uptown Property Group is planning to place a 30-foot tall artificial tree on top of Blenz Coffee (at the corner of Sixth and Sixth) this year to create a festive atmosphere. Hyack is proposing a 55-to 60foot tall artificial tree with multicoloured lights for Hyack Square.

In addition to the tree-lighting celebration, Hyack is proposing a Christmas musical light show at Hyack Square throughout December. A light display timed to music would be shown on the Salvation Army building next to Hyack Square.

"They are really quite spectacular," Unger said of the displays. "They use a building as a façade - then they light up the building."

Unger said the light displays could run for several minutes each hour. Light shows have taken place in places like Baltimore and New York City (Rockefeller Centre).

"They are done to music," he said. "They are really quite neat. What it does is draws people to the downtown core."

Unger said the association's plan has been to ask the city to pay for the tree, and to raise sponsorship money and work with the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Area to pay for the light show.

As part of Hyack's plan to transition from the parade to a new event, the association wanted to get input from council to see if there's support for the concept. Hyack would next consult with people who usually enter the Christmas parade and see if they're interested in participating in the new event.

Coun. Jonathan Cote said he was a "little bit unimpressed" with the tree that was displayed in Hyack Square last year. He admitted that he's always been a fan of the Christmas parade, but he's willing to keep an open mind about a new event.

Coun. Bill Harper said he's always liked the parade and expressed concern that the proposed event may not attract the same families with young children who enjoy the Christmas parade. "I am not sure this is the way to go," he said.

Coun. Betty McIntosh believes the concept needs to be more developed and more time is needed to transition to a new event.

"Personally, I like the parade of lights," she said. "Eliminating the parade of lights this year, I think is just a little too soon."

Unger said the event is a key component of Hyack's overall strategy, which is to focus on doing several larger events that attract people from inside and outside of New Westminster, rather than doing a lot of smaller events.

Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said it's obvious that there is a "drive for change and innovation" in the Hyack Festival Association, which isn't a bad thing. He worries that the quest for change could be happening a little too quickly.

McEvoy said he supports the idea of having a big, shiny Christmas tree at Hyack Square as it would be a "shining beacon of light" in an area seeing significant change with the civic centre project.

Mayor Wayne Wright said the city has been investigating ways of lighting up Columbia Street for the holidays as in past eras. He believes an impressive Christmas tree could make a statement at Hyack Square.

"Change does not come easily to anybody. - We welcome your new ideas," he said. "We have to work into them."

Douglas Smith, the association's executive director, told The Record earlier this year that the association's strategy is to create a core group of signature events that are spread out through the year that are sustainable and have a very high-quality delivery model.

The strategy aims to mix the city's best-loved traditions (such as the Hyack parade and Hyack Anvil Battery salute) with a kaleidoscope of modern festivals and events that will be regional in scope, have broad community appeal and engage diverse multicultural communities.

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