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Ottawa Mayor: City 'failed' with holiday lights at Washington Square

More to go up this week, resident prepares fund for next year

The lighting of Ottawa’s historic Washington Square proved to be a bit of a dim display Friday night.

Visitors expecting to look up and see a towering display around them were dismayed to mainly see illuminated trunks after trimming trees a few weeks earlier and some technical issues the night of the Festival of Light Parade and Washington Square lighting.

“We know that we failed and it looks bad but we’re going to try and make it better,” said Mayor Dan Aussem.

Aussem said he previously heard La Salle Street was too dark last year and as the city had just recently trimmed the lower branches of trees at Washington Square, those lights were moved to double up on lights on La Salle Street.

Extension cords on the ground also ran into issues due to the dew and moisture that Aussem said is also being addressed.

City plans to put up more lights before Christmas market

Aussem said the city was assessing the remaining lights they have on Monday. Through the help of additional donations of time and equipment from local businesses, such as Larry Flemming of The Tree Guy Tree Service and Todd Conroy of Conroy’s Towing, they plan to put more lights up in Washington Square.

Commissioner Marla Rodriguez is planning to have a workshop on Thursday to coordinate efforts and to help hang lights in the park prior to the city’s Chris Kringle market.

“We know that no matter what we do, we can’t fix what has already happened on Friday night but we are trying to get some more lights up and improve it,” Aussem said.

Volunteers are invited to attend the event to assist or share thoughts for next year’s lighting. 

“We’re not blind. We realize we missed the mark and we’ll do the best we can to make it better for Chris Kringle and hopefully we’ll get a good group of volunteers (for next year) and we’ll knock it out of the park,” Aussem said.

Lights committee planned for next year, resident starts donation effort

Aussem added those looking to lend a perspective or helping hand can join a holiday lights committee to prepare for next year.

Aussem said he’s often heard Ottawa First could handle the lighting of the park as they already manage the fireworks on Independence Day, but he said their numbers are dwindling and welcomes other ideas or volunteer groups to consider helping.

One resident in Ottawa is already preparing to make Ottawa’s holiday a little brighter in 2020.

Dylan Conmy wrote a letter to The Times on Sunday night and offering to create a “Light Up Ottawa” fund to support the lighting of the city prior to the winter holidays.

Conmy said the “massive amount of disappointment” when the park’s lights went on over the weekend served as inspiration.

“We cannot always rely on the city to make things happen — this is our town, and we need to make sure we are proud to show it off to those who visit, and those who live here,” Conmy said in his letter. “We need to redeem the Festival of Lights so that we can convince people this was a one time mistake that we will not allow to happen again.”

The city of Streator has a similar fund to sponsor the lights in City Park, the lighting of which will be 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7.

Conmy is special events coordinator at Prairie Fox Books and vice president of the Ottawa Downtown Merchants and while he said his opinions are his alone, he will collect donations for the fund at their storefront, 719 La Salle St., until another location is identified.

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