Baker Street is not looking very festive this year, even though many individual businesses have creative Christmas window displays.
For many years until two years ago, a volunteer group decorated the downtown at Christmas with lights and decorations purchased by the city from the Spurway Trust Fund, a private legacy endowment given for the beautification of the city.
But then the group disbanded and turned the responsibility back to city hall.
“The individual called us and said we just don’t have the time to do this any more,” city planner Pam Mierau told the Star this week, “and so they gave us back all the decorations — lights, wreaths, elves, cutouts, tinsel, many things — most of them are at the end of their life, so it is not like we can just put them back up.”
The city decided instead to incorporate Christmas lighting into its Downtown Urban Design Strategy, which is under development.
“We assessed the decorations and we were also starting our design strategy,” said Mayor Deb Kozak, “and we thought this was an opportunity to pull (the decorations) into a longer term strategy, to think about what decorations were appropriate, to have a plan.”
During the volunteer group’s time, the city purchased lights for businesses downtown to decorate their buildings.
“The lights that were purchased for property owners,” Kozak said, “if you go down Baker they are still on the buildings, but (most of them) are not plugging them in, and I don’t know why.”
Mierau said the draft design strategy includes “a general lighting plan for the downtown as well as a holiday lighting plan. That was on our work plan to do this year, but unfortunately we just never got there. We had a lot of big projects this year. It is on our plan for next year.”
Kozak said there is no budget for a new lighting plan yet but the city hopes to partner with the business community on it.
She said there were some safety issues with the volunteer group climbing to put up lights, especially when it was discovered that the bases of the Baker Street antique lamp standards, on which volunteers were leaning ladders, were rusting, making them unstable.
“Thank God we discovered this before there was an accident,” she said.
Councillor Bob Adams was part of the Christmas lighting volunteer group and he has championed Christmas lights at many city council meetings.
“I am for getting the lights up,” Adams told the Star. “I am not for waiting for a year, two years, to make a plan.”
Adams said he understands the safety issue related to the lamp standards.
“At least light all the trees downtown,” he said. “They are not going to fall over.”
“He is a bit impatient with us,” Kozak said, “because we have not got it together. But that does not stop the business owners from using what they have in place already, on the buildings, or in lighting up things as they see fit.”