Downtown Mesa is ditching its Grinch-like approach to the holidays with plans to string lights through the city center this year.

Downtown has skimped on lights for years despite its displays once being voted the best city lights show in the Valley.

The Downtown Mesa Association wants to build the holiday light tradition back up even if it takes more than a year, said DMA executive director David Short. The nonprofit began a last-minute fundraising effort a few weeks ago with a goal of raising $50,000.

"We're going to make something happen, it's just to what level we're going to make it happen," Short said. "We're going to put up whatever we can fund."

The lack of holiday lights caught Short off guard when he stepped into his job in November 2010. New to Arizona, he knew holiday lights should start going up about that time and asked his staff what the schedule was.

Neither the DMA nor Mesa funded holiday lights for some time, he was told.

Short scrambled to get $3,000 and strung lights along the Main Street median.

The city eliminated its $150,000 light budget in 2003. After that, merchants and occasionally the city gathered some funds for limited displays. Some frustrated shop owners decorated only in front of their businesses.

The biggest expense in lights is the labor to install and remove them. It was cheaper to cut out and throw away the old, inexpensive lights, Short said. The DMA will now buy more reliable and efficient LEDs and reuse them.

Short wants the lights to go up in September, if not this year at least in future years.

"For the expense, you'd like to leave the look up for a lengthy period of time," he said.

SunDust Gallery owner Ron Floyd said he had never seen the lights but has heard rave reviews from customers despite the big displays going away so long ago. Floyd opened his gallery in September 2009 and would like a more festive look to draw customers during the holiday season.

It could encourage merchants to extend hours into the evening if enough visitors stroll down sidewalks that usually are quiet by 6 p.m. or earlier.

"We're looking for reasons to stay open," Floyd said. "If we can get more people down here in the evening, we'd be happy to stay open."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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