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EDC considers drive-through Christmas light park for Rowan County

By Noelle Edwards
nedwards@salisburypost.com
What if for Christmas Santa could bring Rowan County an economic boost, extra business and attention from people for miles around?
Mike Miller of Miller Davis, a marketing and design firm on Main Street, is championing an idea he says could do all of that. Complete with Santa Claus.
Miller wants to bring to Summit Corporate Center a drive-through Christmas light park that would feature more than 100 light displays and a warm-weather ice skating rink.
The price tag is hefty ó $350,000 for the displays and $100,000 to $160,000 for marketing ó but no one around here would have to foot the bill.
Instead, Midwest Display, a light-making company from Kansas City, Mo., would set up the whole thing, including generators to power the displays. The company would also pay Miller Davis for the marketing and promotion.
In turn, Midwest Display will charge visitors $15 per car to drive through the one-mile park, looking at the lights and listening to music piped in on a special FM transmitter. At the end of the drive, a different FM transmitter would kick in with instructions for leaving.
And $1 of the cover price would go back to the county, Miller said.
The display would start Nov. 25 and run through Jan. 3. At that point, the ice skating rink could move to downtown and stay open through March.
Robert Van Geons, Economic Development Commission executive director, said Summit is a prime location for the light display because of the space, the stretch of undeveloped land along the shoulder and two entrances.
Miller pointed out that the corporate park is near Interstate 85.
He said the display would bring in people to see more of Rowan County.
Miller said he would expect the display to draw in people from 100 miles around and contribute $1.3 million to the local economy as visitors buy gas, eat at restaurants and so forth.
The estimate is that the average car has three people in it and that each person would spend an average of $15 while here.
The efforts to market the event, and the event itself, would market Salisbury and Rowan County, Miller said.
Plus, he said, it would market Summit. “You never know who’s going to be driving through.”
Midwest Display is not new to this kind of thing. The company set up light displays at theme parks such as Hershey and Disney for years before beginning to work with cities about 17 years ago.
Midwest Display set up Christmas light displays in cities in Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Other cities buy lights from Midwest in much smaller quantities for light posts and such things.
Midwest has also set up five warm-weather ice skating rinks in various places, with an average cost of $100,000 each.
If the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approves the idea for the project and it’s a success this year, it could continue in future years. Miller said in the future, the county could get more than $1 per car because one of the highest expenses of the project ó furnishing the lights ó wouldn’t be repeated.
At the EDC meeting, Miller was full of ideas, should the display be approved: a food bank night, where visitors who bring a canned food could get discounted admission; sponsorship packages for corporations; opportunities for church groups to have an event on site, then drive through the park together in one large vehicle.
The original idea for the display wasn’t his, though, he was quick to say.
Richard Perkins, the former executive director of the Rowan Business Alliance, brought the idea to Miller several years ago.
The two revisited the idea last year, but by the time their planning started picking up steam, it was too late to get it done by Christmas.
Perkins mentioned it to Miller again a few months ago but died before he was able to help work on it.
The EDC members voted unanimously Wednesday to support the project.
“I know at night we do try to drive around and find the prettiest lights,” said Dianne Greene, EDC chairwoman.
The Rowan County Tourism Development Authority also voted Wednesday to support the park. It will go before Rowan County commissioners at Monday’s meeting. The commissioners meet at 7 p.m.
In other business the Economic Development Commission discussed:
– The need to use social and interactive media; as part of that, a new Web site, www.rowanworks.com, is active.
– North Carolina has set new certification standards for industrial sites, and commissioners discussed the need to make sure all sites in the county are compliant.
– Commissioners went into closed session to discuss a “matter relating to the location or expansion of industries and a personnel matter,” according to the agenda. The personnel matter was related to the hiring of a project manager.

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