Grand illumination, bigger skating rink part of Holiday in the City

Five weeks of activities, events planned.

What for several years was a one-day celebration to usher in the holidays in downtown Springfield is now officially its own season of five weeks of activities, specials and celebrations that can last through the New Year.

Holiday in the City will kick off in grand style on Friday with the opening of the downtown skating rink at 5 p.m. on City Hall Plaza and activities leading to the grand illumination of the community Christmas tree, plus several other attractions, making it a mini version of the former event at Friday downtown.

The grand illumination event is free. The night will include Santa’s arrival around 5:30 p.m. around Columbia and Main streets on a fire truck up to the esplanade where the 55-ft. tree is set, with costumed characters adding to the atmosphere. An emcee will do a formal countdown for the grand illumination.

That’s just the start. There will be music from DJ Chill and other live entertainment, and the rink will be open until 9. The following day will be Small Business Saturday downtown and an ugly sweater karaoke at the Market Bar at COHatch, 7-9 p.m.

Expect the return of carriage rides, holiday projections on buildings, several events tied in returning and some new ones and even more lights on the tree and skating rink. There will also be live shows and other special tie-ins.

Santa will be watching over the event, making appearances on Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 17 to take photos and meet families.

The new format came about in response to not being able to have a Holiday in the City event amid the pandemic in 2020 when the Greater Springfield Partnership (GSP), which presents the event, brought in lights and music to draw people downtown to shop, eat and soak up the atmosphere.

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Chris Schutte, GSP vice-president, destination marketing + communications, and staff discovered despite not having a parade or fireworks finale, the public simply liked being downtown and not jostling among a large crowd. This led to the current format in 2021 that was complemented by adding an ice skating rink, a decision made late in the process.

“There was an allure the rink of skating at night with snow falling, a real greeting card effect,” he said.

The rink was a hit, exceeding expectations in drawing an estimated 3,500 people. It could also be considered an experiment.

“This was the glue that brought it together last year and we asked ourselves, how can we upgrade the experience,” Schutte said.

Visitors this year will find skating upgraded in about every possible way with a larger rink measuring 50-by-80 and 4,000 square feet of ice. Schutte said this will help it feel more open and those who are more novice skaters will feel more at ease and experience smoother ice.

Plexiglass dasher boards were added, a Zamboni will be used to refresh the ice and 200 new pairs of skates. In 2021, the GSP staff had the task of resurfacing the ice themselves.

Public skating will be 5-8 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays and 5-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Skating costs $5 and skate rental is $2. Debit and credit cards will also be accepted, not just cash.

Special times have also been set aside. Starting Dec. 1 and every other Thursday from 4-5 p.m., there will be a special skating time for ages 6-under only, and on alternate Thursdays there will be special needs skating. Schutte said those groups are also welcome to skate any time, but allotted times can include more people who may not otherwise participate.

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Schutte said the rink attracted out of town visitors from as far as the Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton areas as such outdoor rinks are few if any, and hopes it will lead to them discovering the downtown businesses and restaurants and making a night of it.

While the skating rink was a hit, Schutte credited Speedway for stepping up as a big sponsor and again this year. In 2022, the sponsorships in general have increased as those donating saw the enthusiasm for the rink, which has cost more to bring in and upgrade.

This also led to volunteer groups manning the rink and will earn some of the proceeds, network and explain what they do.

“People want to support something positive and we love they’ve stepped up to help,” said Schutte.

Schutte said one of the big benefits of having five weeks of Holiday in the City is for downtown businesses to get exposure.

“It really benefits our merchants, restaurants and bars beyond shooting it all in just one night,” he said. “This lets us make downtown a holiday destination. Our merchants are excited and are planning activities around it.”

GSP’s Ashten Houseman said Holiday in the City also produces great memories, with a few marriage proposals occurring amid the atmosphere in 2021.

“At the end of the day, we want to do what individuals are ready for,” said Schutte.

For the calendar of Holiday in the City activities and events and updates, go to www.facebook.com/holidayinthecityspfld.

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