Festival of Lights lost $7,300 and 40% of attendance

March 13, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's second Festival of Lights holiday light show lost an estimated $7,300 and saw attendance drop by 40 percent in its most recent display -- and county officials say it has to do better next time.

To explore ways to increase attendance, county recreation Director John F. Weber III plans a brainstorming session March 27 for operators of 10 charitable light shows from Texas to Virginia, including Columbia's Symphony of Lights, which also lost attendance this year.

"We're very concerned about this drop in attendance," Weber said of the Festival of Lights, at Fort Howard Park in Edgemere. Although several factors, including weather and competition, may help explain the loss, "that's not good enough," he said.

The drive-through display raises money for Fort Howard Park, which must become self-supporting under the county's philosophy of running government more like a business.

The county used $250,000 from its park funds to buy the 104-piece light display in 1995, and another $250,000 for electrical upgrades to handle the display.

In its most recent season, from late November through early January, the light show brought in $102,032, preliminary figures show. Most of that amount was from ticket sales; the rest, $6,000, was cash donated by Comcast Cablevision, McDonald's restaurants and Eastpoint Mall.

But 6,800 fewer vehicles visited the display -- 10,200 this season compared with 17,000 last season. That was the worst drop in the area; attendance at the Columbia display dropped by 25 percent.

Two other area light shows -- Baltimore's Zoo Lights and Anne Arundel County's Lights on the Bay -- made modest gains.

For the Baltimore County display, Weber said, early figures show expenses of $109,332. The highest single expenditure was $39,514 to help pay off start-up costs from last year. Another $35,000 went to salaries of staff members who worked at the display. The loss was estimated at $7,300.

Weber said the results from next season are critical to the county's plan to have select parks pay for themselves and generate income for the department.

These "enterprise" parks -- Fort Howard, Loch Raven Fishing Center, Oregon Ridge and Miami and Rocky Point beaches -- are the most used in the county and are expected to help make up for cuts by the last two county administrations.

Money from the enterprise park fund was to buy the light display and pay for the electrical upgrades -- a combined expense of $500,000.

To recapture lost business, Weber plans a bigger, earlier push for donated advertising, and more and clearer road signs to make isolated Fort Howard Park easier to find at night.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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