Angels, stars may have seen their last days as downtown Christmas decorations

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The heralding angels and gold stars affixed to downtown light poles for the past 13 holiday seasons may have seen their last Christmas in Salisbury.
“A lot of people would like to see them replaced,” said Randy Hemann, executive director for Downtown Salisbury Inc.
Downtown Salisbury raised $40,000 in 1998 to buy the current decorations, including the massive star that hangs over the Square and weighs several hundred pounds.
The decorations are showing their age and have outlived their life expectancy of 10 years, Hemann said.
“We maintain them as well as we can,” he said.
Downtown Salisbury spends about $2,000 every year hiring someone to put them up and take them down. But the organization doesn’t “have the time or resources, with the projects we’ve got going on, to make the effort to raise another $40,000 or $50,000 to replace them,” Hemann said.
Enter James Meacham and the Salisbury Tourism Development Authority.
Hemann and Meacham are working with others on a holiday decorations committee to see if tourism could take over responsibility for Christmas decor. They expect to make a proposal to the tourism board within 90 days, Meacham said.
Tourism likely will suggest taking over the Angels in Salisbury project as well, which was cut from the Downtown Salisbury budget this year.
“We want to capture that historic and authentic downtown Christmas experience,” said Meacham, executive director for the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That can bring visitors downtown and help drive retail traffic.”
The committee, led by Barbara Sorel, visited Mooresville and Hickory to view their decorations. Tourism dipped a toe in the holiday decorations pool this year by giving the East Innes Street bridge a Christmas season spruce-up.
Salisbury tourism, funded by a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax, paid $3,600 to install power receptacles in the median and $2,800 for white lights to cover trees and bushes in the median and alongside the bridge.
The group also paid $1,200 to repair some of the old light-pole decorations.
And there’s more money where that came from.
The annual capital budget for the Salisbury tourism authority is about $110,000, with between $8,000 and $10,000 set aside each month for capital expenses. The capital fund soon will reach $200,000 because the authority hasn’t had many expenditures and new wayfinding signs — a big-ticket item — are still under review by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“We have the resources,” Meacham said.
It makes sense for tourism to take over Christmas decorations, leaving Downtown Salisbury, which is down to two employees, to focus on economic development and building preservation, Meacham said.
The Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau has completed several large holiday promotions and has a stake in a better overall visual experience for downtown visitors, he said.
The Salisbury tourism board has approved buying new trolleys to replace the two 1987 models, which Meacham said are worn out and cost about $600 a month to maintain. He expects bids to come in around $135,000 each, payable over five years.
He said he will help offset the cost by selling the current trolleys, cutting maintenance costs and increasing ticket sales by adding events and seating more passengers on the new, larger vehicles.
New Christmas decorations could tie-in with the trolleys, perhaps featuring wreaths and white lights, Meacham said.
Tourism may launch a new Dickens Christmas trolley tour through downtown Salisbury, similar to the popular Haunted Trolley Tour in October, he said.
“We want to expand the Christmas experience for retailers,” he said.
Replacing the light pole decorations will cost between $30,000 and $60,000, likely done in phases over three years, Meacham said.
The decoration committee expects to present a proposal to the tourism board complete with trolleys, light-pole decor and a marketing plan, including the Angels in Salisbury project, he said.
“They add to the authenticity of the holiday experience,” Meacham said.
Most of the 39 eight-foot-tall wooden angels remained in storage this year, which would have been the 10th anniversary of the project. An anonymous benefactor arranged to have four angels installed at St. John’s Lutheran Church five days before Christmas. The benefactor dedicated one angel each to Hemann and Downtown Salisbury; Rose Post, the Salisbury Post columnist who died in 2011; former City Manager David Treme; and brothers and philanthropists Gordon and Jimmy Hurley.
For tourism to fund the angel project, the board would need to determine the heavenly host would bring people to Salisbury.
“It has to be tourism-related,” Meacham said. “It must be focused on increasing visitors.”
Hemann said he thinks the angels will qualify because they help make Salisbury a more attractive destination.
“I think it’s a great fit,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.