Christmas will still come, but the Celebration of Lights at Hartwood Acres Park has been suspended indefinitely due to an increase in costs and a decline in sponsorships. The decision came as a result of the county’s limited financial resources after taxpayers had to cover most of the $1.5 million cost last year.
Amie Downs, Director of Communications for Allegheny County, said there is a chance the show could go on, but only if sponsors “come out of the woodwork” over the next few months.
“There are certainly options, I think, that we could do some scaled-back version, or a version that perhaps is not available for as long, but that is a decision that we would have to make based on the amount of sponsorships,” Downs said. “At this point, we’re operating as if we’re not going to be able to do it this year.”
Last holiday season the Celebration of Lights ran from November 18 through January 8.
The celebration is not only a long-standing holiday tradition in the Pittsburgh region, but also a fundraiser for several charities and organizations. Downs said partners have greatly benefited from the lights display since it started 21 years ago.
“Both the Salvation Army and some other charities have received funds in the past. The Salvation Army has been a constant; we’ve generated about $3.7 million in revenues for Project Bundle Up and the Salvation Army since this first began in 1991,” Downs said.
Major William Bode of the Salvation Army of Western Pennsylvania says he was made aware last week of the possibility that the Celebration of Lights could be suspended and was "sorry to hear about it" because so many people enjoy it. According to Major Bode, the Salvation Army has been helped for two decades and the last two years has received $100,000. "Now we're going to have to make up that money that we anticipated receiving again," Bode said. "That will mean we've got to raise the money for 2,000 children to recxeive warm winter coats, hats and gloves. That's the impact it has on the Salvation Army and upon the community and upon children."
Bode is still hopeful that some sponsors will come forward so the Celebration of Lights can continue, and if not that, then to support the Salvation Army directly.
Downs added this decision does not mean the attraction will not be open in future years. “We do believe though that we need to sort of rethink what has been done in the past and talk about how to change it and still be able to do a celebration that we know a lot of people look forward to and in a way that is more friendly to our own financial resources,” Downs said.
In its first year, the celebration included 28 displays with 250,000 lights. This past year, more than two million lights were incorporated into the three-mile drive. Nearly 170,000 people visited the display and approximately $160,000 was raised for charity. The admission fee is a suggested $12 per car.