John O'Sullivan looked across Broadway Avenue Monday night at a glimpse of what he hopes could be the future for downtown Tyler during the holiday season.
As dusk waned to darkness, thousands of Christmas lights covering the front of a building he owns at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Erwin Street glowed brighter and brighter.
The O'Sullivans covered the front façade of the corner building with green lights and ran down the Broadway Avenue side with stripes of red and green lights until they ran out. He said there was strong interest from other business owners and community leaders to finish the building but that he would not be able to complete the project before the city's Christmas parade. He's calling it a prototype for a plan hatched by Tyler Main Street to turn downtown Tyler into a destination for light lovers.
He started with a $1,500 budget and ran 2,400 linear feet of lights. He hopes to inspire other building owners and community supporters to step up next year and blanket downtown in lights for the holidays. The additional lights should offer a bit more glow to the lighting and tree city workers continue to prepare for the annual lighting and parade event.
"We're doing what we can this year and just hoping to inspire something bigger," he said. "The last few years downtown has slacked off on the lights, so we're replacing the old ones and trying something new. We're just trying to brighten up downtown again."
Tyler Main Street Director Beverly Able said the corner property would be the first of hopefully many and eventually all of the downtown buildings to participate in stringing Christmas lights on a large and very bright scale.
The idea is based on a program by the Big Bright Light Show in Rochester, Michigan, where city blocks are covered in lights throughout the holiday season.
O'Sullivan is on Tyler Main Street's Design Committee and typically offers his buildings to test new ideas, she said. She said the city has been looking at unique Christmas light programs for some time and that she hopes others follow O'Sullivan's lead next year.
"It's a different approach for Tyler's downtown lighting," she said. "We feel like we could get buy-in if people see what we're talking about."
Nancy Borges, marketing coordinator for the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, said the Big Bright Light Show draws tourists from all over the metro-Detroit area and Canada to see more than one million LED lights cover building facades on four city blocks.
This is Rochester's 10th anniversary show, which was inspired by a Christmas light display at Disney World. The lighting ceremony was Monday night and lasts each day from 5 p.m. to midnight through Jan. 3.
The development authority owns and stores the lights. An electric company is hired each year to hang the lights beginning in October.
The city of Rochester supports the show, which costs around $240,000 and is mostly funded through sponsorships and other fundraising efforts throughout the year, Ms. Boges said.
Ms. Boges said the show has brought renewed interest to downtown Rochester. Empty storefronts are now open for business, and businesses have reported double and triple sales over the years related to the foot traffic.
"You can drive through it and you can see it in pictures but you don't get the full experience without walking in it," she said. "You can probably see it from space at this point, but it really is magical to see the buildings blanketed in lights."
Mrs. Able said projects of this scope take time, money and participation. But she believes O'Sullivan's strings would inspire others to follow and support the program on a much larger scale.
"He's one of those people willing to buy-in early, when he knows something is great for downtown," she said. "He understands it helps promote downtown by giving people something to come see."
O'Sullivan said he has heard from other downtown business owners who say they are willing to expand the idea next year. He said it would take more than twice as many lights to complete the one building, but most buildings that front Erwin Street would take far fewer. He said it would just take some planning and coordinating with other building owners but he expects more participation next year.
"I'm excited, because I can see what it could be," he said. "I'm tickled with the way it turned out. I don't think it will take too much for people to join in and I think it will look great to light up downtown."
IF YOU GO
Tyler Rotary Clubs Christmas Parade begins downtown at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3. The city's tree lighting ceremony begins immediately following the parade.