Downtown Elizabeth City is going to be brighter and more festive this coming holiday season thanks to a $20,000 boost in spending on new Christmas decorations.
City Council voted last week to request the city-county Tourism Development Authority approve the city’s request to use $5,000 from its share of occupancy tax revenues on the Christmas light project.
Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc., Pasquotank County and Visit Elizabeth City have already approved chipping in $5,000 each for the project.
Just over $5,000 was spent to replace aging decorations last year and the new funding will replace more lights as well as purchase new decorations for parts of downtown that have not been decorated in the past.
Elizabeth Street, which is a major entryway into the city, and sections of Fearing Street, Colonial Avenue and Poindexter Street, will be decorated for the first time. A total of 48 pole decorations will be placed at the new locations, including 30 on Elizabeth Street.
“Elizabeth Street, that is the gateway into the downtown area,” said ECDI Director Debbie Malenfant.
Decorations may also be placed at Veterans Park and Mariners’ Wharf Park. More lights will be added to the Pasquotank County Courthouse and surrounding areas. The lights and decorations are illuminated from Nov. 18 through Jan. 2.
Malenfant told council that adding new locations for decorations was necessitated in part by new businesses opening in those areas.
At last month’s Tourism Development Authority board meeting, both Malenfant and Visit Elizabeth City Executive Director Corrina Ferguson said the Christmas decorations are expensive, noting that a single one costs about $400.
Malenfant also advised council that asking for the $5,000 was a one-year request. She clarified that after Councilor Johnnie Walton pointed out that a memo given to council members said the effort was “part of a long-term plan’’ to expand Christmas decorations each year.
“How many years are you going to go back in and ask for $20,000 for this program?” Walton asked.
Malenfant said the long-term plan was in reference to the downtown’s overall long-term strategic plan and having holiday decorations is part of that plan.
“That probably wasn’t made clear,” she said. “We are not asking for repetitive funding of $20,000 each year.’’
Malenfant said additional lighting at and around the courthouse is important because that is where the Grand Illumination and Holiday Celebration will take place on Nov. 29 — the night after Thanksgiving — from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“That (courthouse) is lacking in a ‘wow’ factor when we flip the switch,” Malenfant said. ‘We are purchasing a ton of additional lights for the four trees in front of the courthouse. That is a great event for the community and for visitors.’’
Officials hope to promote the city as a Christmas destination and several organizations and businesses are currently working on a “Christmas in Elizabeth City” promotion that will highlight events and activities during the holiday season.
A new website — ChristmasinElizabethCity.com — to promote those events will soon go live and Visit Elizabeth City is going to advertise the website on various platforms, including Google and Facebook.
‘We are putting a pretty significant portion of our marketing budget behind it because the new website needs a little bit of attention in order to get people to go to it,” Ferguson said. “We are really going to push that content out. The Christmas in Elizabeth City website will highlight anything and everything that is going on.”
Councilwoman Jeannie Young said expanding and promoting Christmas events will be a boost for the city.
“Christmas lights help drive tourism downtown,” Young said. “Christmas is one of the biggest events that you can get people to come and visit your community.”
At last month’s TDA meeting, Ferguson noted that “Christmas is big business,” driving economic impact not just for retailers but for those in the hospitality business as well.
She noted that a number of communities use the Christmas season to drive visitation but one in North Carolina that’s been particularly successful is McAdenville, a small town in Gaston County.
Known as Christmas Town USA, McAdenville has only about 650 full-time residents, “but all of them decorate their homes” for Christmas, Ferguson said. The result is a popular holiday light show that draws 600,000 visitors to the “teeny, tiny town” over a five- to six-week period, driving $12 million in economic impact, she said.
Young said she’s seen that impact first hand. She said her daughter-in-law’s sister operates a bakery in McAdenville, and she makes “the majority of her money” for the entire year during the holiday season because of the large number of visitors at Christmastime.
Ferguson said she knows what McAdenville is able to do and what Elizabeth City could do with its additional lights this year is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison.
“But the point is, it (Christmas) is big business, it is economic impact, so let’s try to get some of it,” she said.
Ferguson noted that if downtown businesses and residents see the investment Visit Elizabeth City, ECDI and the city and county are making in more Christmas lights, they also might be more inclined to decorate their businesses and homes for the holiday season.