No Trail of Lights

City announces Zilker Tree Holiday Festival instead of traditional illuminated promenade

Trail of Lights: Not this year
Trail of Lights: Not this year (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

With the budget crunch casting a shadow over the city's biggest holiday season celebration, the decision was simple: a) Have a Trail of Lights (complete with massive electricity bill) at Zilker Park and charge up to $5 a head; b) no Trail of Lights, make whatever is organized free. The city has picked option B and is calling it the Zilker Tree Holiday Festival.

In today's announcement, the city has decided to keep the event in-house rather than using an outside promoter (generally presumed to be likely to be C3) to run the 2009 event for them. So to scale back costs and keep the event free, the massive illuminated promenade gets mothballed. Instead, starting Dec. 13, there will be "a nine-night, free, family-friendly event complete with a lighted pedestrian footpath display, a major holiday concert and nightly entertainment, concessions and holiday fare." Plus, in another effort to cut costs, parking drops from $15 to $10.

So, no illuminated dinosaurs, but the 152 foot Zilker tree will still be there (at least for this year). The long-term fate of the trail and the event will be discussed early in 2010.

Here's the full press release:

City of Austin announces 2009 Zilker Tree Holiday Festival

The City of Austin announced today that it is moving forward to produce the 2009 Zilker Tree Holiday Festival – a nine-night, free, family-friendly event complete with a lighted pedestrian footpath display, a major holiday concert and nightly entertainment, concessions and holiday fare. The festival will run from 6 to 10 p.m. Dec. 13-21.

Anchored by the famed Zilker Tree – a 152-foot-tall tree of lights that has been an Austin tradition for 43 years – all festival events and attractions will take place on the Zilker Park grounds surrounding the tree and the Zilker Hillside Theater, south of Barton Springs Road. The full-scale Trail of Lights, which traditionally occurs on the north side of Zilker Park, will not be a part of this year’s holiday festivities.

The City will kick off the holiday season with the official Zilker Tree-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6. The tree will remain lit through Dec. 31.

The festival announcement comes after months of financial feasibility studies and discussions of festival options, including three Requests for Proposals soliciting outside vendors’ bids to produce and coordinate the full-scale Trail of Lights Festival.

City staff is not making a recommendation to move forward with granting a contract for services this year but will assessing next steps for future Trails of Lights in early 2010.

As part of the 2009-2010 budget, the Austin City Council approved charging up to a $5 entrance fee for the Trail of Lights. The decision to produce the event internally, without a full Trail of Lights on the traditional North side of Zilker Park, will allow the Parks Department to defer charging an entrance fee this year.

“At a time when so many families are having to scale back their holiday plans, I am delighted that the Parks and Recreation Department has put together a program that will allow families to create lasting holiday memories without affecting their personal budgets,” said City Manager Marc Ott.

PARD is depending on increased involvement from multiple City departments and financial and in-kind corporate support to help offset some of the costs associated with producing the event.

Parking for this year’s event will be $10 per vehicle – down from $15 in years past. Barton Springs Road will be closed to through traffic from Stratford Lane to Robert E. Lee Blvd. Dec. 13-21.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

City Council, Zilker Park, Trail of Lights, Zilker Tree Holiday Festival

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