While the weather in Ohio can be unpredictable, Chris Schutte, vice president of marketing and communications with the Greater Springfield Partnership, is confident that Downtown Springfield will be a winter wonderland with or without snow.
Following last year’s tamed down yet highly successful version of Holiday In The City (HITC), this year’s weeks-long festivities looks to be another win for Springfield and Downtown businesses.
“Typically (HITC) was a one-day event with live events, fireworks, carousel rides … it started and was finished in about three hours,” says Schutte. “It cost an incredible amount of money for a three hour window. As a committee we have wanted to make it a season long event for several years.”
Schutte says last year the committee was forced to reexamine HITC activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to use the dollars we usually pump into a one-night event and extend it into a 4 or 5 week window, light Downtown to the nines, pump in audio, have other special things and do something to really support downtown restaurants and retailers?’” he says.
The response to last year’s modified event was “over the top incredible,” Schutte says.
“We weren’t sure how people would respond,” he says. “It still was lighting Downtown, but it took away a lot of the live event pieces, and we thought we would hear complaints, but people were like, ‘Wow! This is incredible!’ The payoff was huge – retailers and restaurants did really well during that time.”
Planning for the 2021 HITC commenced in April of this year and Schutte says it came down to, maintaining the changes, and the dynamic that were beneficial to the community as a whole and “not going backward.”
“We aren’t creating events where we have 15,000 people converge at the exact same time on Downtown,” says Schutte. “Those are the kind of things we had to think through.”
He says HITC this year will have all of the trappings of last year. But, as it moves into phase two, visitors will see the lighting and music extend north from the Esplanade to Columbia Street in Springfield, and added audio features further north along shops on North Fountain Avenue. Other lighting elements will be added to the core block and City Hall Plaza.
“The effect you got last year will be doubled by the tune of hundreds of thousands of more lights,” he says.
Schutte says the committee wanted to continue engaging with local partners that already have activities planned to create a menu of opportunities for the holiday season.
“For example, Mannheim Steamroller at the Clark State Performing Arts Center, that’s great! Let’s put that under HITC and entice people from (outside Springfield) to come,” he says.
Most notably, HITC will not only also include horse carriage rides, appearances by Santa, a Christmas market, and a live Nativity, but also an outdoor ice skating arena.
“That’s something we have been talking about forever … we were pleasantly surprised to have the rink sponsored by Speedway,” says Schutte. “It’s something they wanted to do for the community. They are making it possible.”
While the technicalities of the outdoor ice arena are still being coordinated, Schutte says the 40 ft. by 80 ft. sheet of ice with twinkling lights could be a gamechanger for HITC. The ice rink is slated to open on Nov. 26 and be open to the public through Jan. 2.
Schutte says this year is going to be a great step in extending HITC, and he believes there is even more growth to come.
“It can get bigger, better. It can become an incredible drawing card, and that’s going to elevate everyone that does business Downtown,” he says. “That’s what we saw last year. It was the goal; it was the wish that everyone wanted to come true, and it actually happened.”
Schutte says the benefits of the way HITC was done in 2020 felt “so much smarter.”
“It’s a pretty heavy lift. I’m so proud of everyone,” says Schutte. “Everyone has done a great job and the support for it has been overwhelming.”
Holiday in the City 2021 begins with the Grand Illumination of Downtown on Nov. 26 and continues through Jan. 7. A complete – and growing – calendar of HITC events can be found on the HITC Facebook event page