December 20, 2009
The Holiday Lights Spectacular at the PNC Bank Arts Center has ended after an 11-year run. For some, the decision by Live Nation to curtail the tradition bordered on a crime against the spirit of the season. For others, it marked the well-deserved culmination of an overpriced rip-off.
The declining attendance figures over the years suggest it won't be universally missed. As recently as seven years ago, more than 100,000 vehicles took the two-mile drive past the nearly 200 displays. Last year, only about 10,000 vehicles paid the $15 admission to view the more than 1 million lights.
Live Nation, which operates the PNC Bank Arts Center, said the holiday display simply lost its appeal with the passage of time. "Our research into this type of event showed a similar life cycle for holiday events, with a rise and decline in attendance over time," spokesman Jim Steen said.
Some say the holiday display lost its appeal because Live Nation's heart wasn't in it. That may or may not be so. But the bottom line for Live Nation was that it was losing money. Lack of profitability also doomed a similar holiday lights show at Great Adventure in Jackson, which operated for two years before being canceled in 2004.
Many recall the arts center holiday displays with fondness. The giant holiday angels, snowmen and carolers. The starbursts, reindeer and depiction of the 12 Days of Christmas. Some years, there were hay rides, ice skating and a holiday village where kids could meet and have their pictures taken with Santa, roast marshmallows and go on free kiddie rides.
For some, the end of the tradition is worth lamenting. For others, there is a better option: Walking around the neighborhood and getting a close-up look at the many inventive, often spectacular displays. There seems to be at least one Griswold family on every block.
It's healthier and more invigorating than driving, it's free and it better reflects the genuine spirit of the holidays.