Holiday lights to bathe downtown

Tuesday, November 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:13 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Select downtown facades will be illuminated in holiday colors and display shimmering snowflakes of light beginning Thursday at 6 p.m.

The 35,000-watt lighting project was designed by MU theatre graduate Chris Howe, who bathed Memorial Union in pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Week and illuminated the Boone County Courthouse for the annual First Night event last New Year’s Eve. His latest endeavor downtown will be the largest outdoor lighting project of his career.

“My goal is to bring color and a new approach to holiday lighting,” Howe said. “It’s nice to be able to give something back to the downtown community.”

Decorations to concentrate on Ninth Street and Broadway

Howe’s decoration of stone and brick walls will focus on Ninth Street and Broadway. Twenty sites will be emblazoned with 14 color washes in festive colors, including six projections displaying snowmen, snowflakes, wreaths and other holiday decorations.

Howe has worked in the sound and lighting business more than 10 years. He works for Sound Concepts, a company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that is expanding to Columbia via Howe. Howe has also done projects with the Columbia Performing Arts Center, The Missouri Theatre and The Blue Note.

First Night Celebration sparked interest in Howe

“We decided it was time to do something new and different,” said Carrie Gartner, director of Downtown Columbia Associations. “We saw what Chris did with the First Night Celebration, and we were impressed.”

The lighting project is funded by the Special Business District, the same organization that has spearheaded beautification projects downtown, including new benches, trash receptacles and a five-phase streetlights venture that is under way.

The organization usually spends more than $10,000 to light up trees and buildings, but this year’s project will cost about $8,000 Gartner said.

“It is difficult to decorate all the trees, and we feel we get more bang for our buck with the new lighting project.”

Light switch ceremony proves too difficult

Gartner also cited the difficulty of attempts in recent years to have a ceremony in which all the downtown lights were turned on simultaneously.

“We had someone standing in every alley switching on circuit breakers and people in stores standing by their light switches,” she said. “It was impossible. We decided let’s just forget about trying to get it all on at the same time.”

Buildings still will be decorated with white lights to provide a cooler backdrop for all the activities of the holiday season, Gartner said.

Downtown patrons and trick-or-treaters might have seen Howe’s test run on Halloween, when he projected an orange pumpkin on the side of Bingham’s and illuminated Teller’s and The Blue Note with orange light.

“I thought it looked great,” Blue Note owner Richard King said. “Chris does great things in lighting — we expect nothing but great things from the holiday project.”

Rebecca Loveridge contributed to this report.

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