For the first time since 1999, the Edmonton Downtown Business Association’s (EDBA) Holiday Light Up event won’t have a giant Christmas tree — and the City of Edmonton says it won’t step in to provide a tree due to the environmental impact.
EDBA executive director Puneeta McBryan said the annual Christmas tree display typically draws in many residents, but the foot traffic doesn’t translate into business for Edmonton shops and restaurants. So the group has rethought its event to fix the oversight, replacing the Christmas tree with other light installations, like a life-sized bison.
The City of Edmonton has confirmed there won’t be a Christmas tree. It estimated the cost to install a tree and provide public programming at $124,000.
“The City factored in the cost and the environmental implications of cutting down and transporting a mature natural forest tree and decided to explore other opportunities to bring vibrancy to Churchill Square that would complement the new Holiday Light Up event being planned by the Edmonton Downtown Business Association,” spokesperson Karen McDonnell told True North.
The city also said Edmonton Downtown Business Association provided the tree since 1999. Edmonton supports the event by coordinating the road closures for the transportation and installation of the tree, amplifying the event announcements and providing the space for the tree at no cost.
The city doesn’t typically provide funding for the Holiday Light Up event. But the business group was awarded $88,980 through the Downtown Vibrancy Fund in 2021. And this year, the group received $40,000 in Downtown Vibrancy Strategy funding and $10,000 in Festival and Event Covid Recovery Grant funding to support two events, including the Light Up event.
In 2020, the Holiday Light Up event had a 77-foot Christmas tree with 22,000 LED lights. Last year, the Christmas tree was 65 feet tall and held more than 14,000 lights.
The 2022 Holiday Light Up theme is The North. The event will showcase a life-sized illuminated polar bear, an LED-lit iceberg and a life-size bison named Bryson, designed by the artist GABS.
“We’ve been doing the tree on the square for many, many years and we found it’s a great draw, families go to the tree and then they leave,” McBryan told Global News. “And it’s not really a great way to activate in our businesses, to draw people in to shop and dine and see what downtown actually has to offer.”
The city won’t splurge for a tree, but last month, Edmonton councillors voted to build 100 kms of bike lanes that will cost Alberta’s capital city $170 million — plus another $11 million annually to maintain.
City administrators presented four options costing $25 million, $90 million, $130 million or $170 million. Councillors chose the most expensive option with the highest annual operating costs.