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Patch Poll: Should Allegheny County End Celebration of Lights at Hartwood?

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says Allegheny County cannot afford the annual light show due to costs and a lack of sponsors. Should the holiday-themed show go on anyway?

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Monday that the county will discontinue the annual holiday-themed Celebration of Lights at Hartwood Acres Park due to high costs and declining sponsorships.

The county-owned park spanning property in Hampton and Indiana townships has been the longtime site and the county Department of Parks and Recreation has overseen the annual three-mile driving tour of displays depicting Christmas, Hanukkah and winter themes.

Contributions from visitors have been earmarked for Project Bundle-up, a project by WTAE and the Salvation Army to outfit needy children and senior citizens with coats and cold-weather gear.

In past years, the Celebration of Lights has been known to generate long lines of traffic snaking through the park and nearby communities as visitors waited for their turn to view the displays. Fitzgerald said the decision to suspend the Celebration of Lights was not made lightly but was necessary because the number of other corporate sponsors for the event has dwindled.

"We have been proud to partner with the Salvation Army and WTAE TV 4 for the past 20 years on this and are gratified that we have helped to generate $3.7 million in revenues for Project Bundle-Up and other local charities during that time,” Fitzgerald said.

“The cost to operate the event has increased year after year, and unfortunately, sponsorships have declined. Last year, taxpayers had to cover most of the Celebration of Lights’ $1.5-million cost. With the county’s limited financial resources, it is just not something that we are able to continue offering.”

The event began in 1991 with 28 displays and 250,000 lights, according to county officials. In December 2011, more than 2 million lights were included in displays at the event, which drew 170,000 visitors and generated $160,000 for charity.

County officials recognize that suspending the event will have an impact on charitable efforts to donate coats and other winter gear to those who need it, Fitzgerald said. They will work with WTAE and the Salvation Army "to help them offset that loss," he said.

What do you think?

Is a visit to the Celebration of Lights part of your family's annual holiday tradition? Should tax dollars be used to keep it going? Do you support the count's decision in light of shrinking corporate sponsorships for the 20-year-old event?  

Take our poll, and explain your vote in the comments, below.

Vincent Egry September 12, 2012 at 12:45 AM
It is far better for the community to support the charities as individuals by attending at Hartwood than for the taxpayers to fund them directly. But that said, if the County can more easily afford some direct support, the taxpayers should ease the transition to private charities in the short term. Leave it to government to screw up every good thing!
Josh Meeder September 12, 2012 at 09:41 PM
While it is sad to see a local tradition coming to an end, it is offensive to think that the taxpayers had to subsidize the majority of the $1.5 million cost last year. That money could have been used for schools, roads, shelters, OR not been spent in the first place.
Shel B September 13, 2012 at 12:38 AM
As a frequent Hartwood hiker, I see the waste every year and it just tees me off no end. It takes two months (of county workers' time) to put up the displays and two months to take them down again. The workers'--no fault of theirs, I'm sure it's their instructions--CUT OFF the lights that twine around the hundreds of trees...every year. What a waste--of time, of property, of electricity. Is this really what we're fighting wars in the middle east for??
Vincent Egry September 13, 2012 at 12:07 PM
The individual charities need corporate sponsors immediately. Among this readership are businessmen who could make a difference. It's time for good corporate citizens to stand up and save the charities and the taxpayer's money!
Josh Meeder September 13, 2012 at 12:47 PM
This is a great arguement for the need for sustainability and fiscal accountability in projects and local government. This festival is an extravagant waste of electricity and auto emissions ( as most cars slowly idle through the course). While the community gets some notoriety , the is no lasting encomonic impact, especially to the local small businesses. People come, drive through, and leave. This is the reason more sponsors aren't forthcoming. They do not see the social or enconomic impact. Businesses and individuals have had their wallets stretched to the breaking point. People are still giving to charities. They are just being more selective. As a member of a Board of Directors for a local non-profit, I would have a hard time recommending a donation to this event over of other projects that would have a more direct and lasting impact on the community. Shame on Allegheny County for letting this go so long that it costs them a million bucks. Residents and taxpayers should be outraged. Perhaps the current sponsors should consider another event or charity that is inline with the season. Perhaps supporting a soup kitchen or homeless shelter would be more appropriate to the season of joy and giving. Charities do need our support. Support what you believe in. Sparkling lights and polluting a local park with emissions, trash and lights is not one I would consider very seriously.

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