City of Phoenix inspectors this week could bring a little early Christmas cheer to Ahwatukee by deciding let there be lights.
For more than a year, the Festival of Lights – one of Ahwatukee’s most popular Christmas season traditions – has been in jeopardy because city inspectors have demanded expensive repairs to the wiring and other infrastructure that power the festive display.
They threatened to withhold permits unless the Festival of Lights Committee completes repairs to power boxes and other apparatus in the medians of Chandler Boulevard between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street.
But Festival of Lights Committee President Raphael Isaac – who has been working with the city to resolve the issue – said the Phoenix Planning and Development Department now might let the lights shine as long as the repairs are done next year.
Isaac and other members of the all-volunteer committee of local business owners were to meet with inspectors later this week for a final walk-through along Chandler Boulevard.
But Isaac told AFN he’s hoping that meeting will end happily so the display can go on for the 25th consecutive year.
“We’re very optimistic,” Isaac said. “The city has verbally told us that we can light the islands using last year’s infrastructure.”
But the display is not out of the woods by a long shot.
Even if it goes on as scheduled beginning Thanksgiving Week through New Year’s Day, the future of the display will hinge considerably on the generosity of Ahwatukee businesses and residents.
Ironically, while the pandemic shattered the two big events – popular community traditions in their own right – that help pay for the display, it apparently softened the city’s insistence that the infrastructure repairs be completed before the lights go on.
Social distancing guidelines largely provoked the cancellation of both this year’s adults-only Beer Wine and Culinary Festival and the family-friendly Festival of Lights Kick-Off Party.
But the pandemic’s impact on global supply chains also has made it impossible for the FOL Committee’s contractor to undertake the Chandler Boulevard repairs until January.
“Basically, we had two estimates to do the repairs,” Isaac explained. “One of them was incredibly high and the second one – which was the contractor we had wanted to go with all along – came in at a very reasonable price.
“He’s looking at around $50,000 to do the work but because of COVID and the short supply of materials, he cannot start until January.”
Isaac said he’s been working the last few weeks with city inspectors and that “the city has been very understanding.”
He said inspectors likely will point out some relatively minor repairs that must be addressed immediately but is optimistic that Christmas Lights Decorators, which sets up the display, will be able to start hanging the lights up within a matter of days.
This year that task will be a little different – and the lights display ultimately will be different as well.
Isaac said he’s already been getting calls from people concerned about the saguaros that the lights hang on because the Valley’s long dry spell have left many cactuses brittle and prone to falling. He’s seen three down on Chandler Boulevard.
“A lot of them are dying. A lot of them have fallen over,” he said. “We’ve reached out to an arborist to give us an opinion. We don’t want to damage the saguaros.”
He said Christmas Lights Decorators owner Doug Topham “does an amazing job and is very careful in wrapping them. But if we determine that there are one, two or however many saguaros that maybe are not healthy enough, then we are going to skip lighting those and just let them be for the year.”
While “the lights are LED and they don’t give off any heat,” Isaac said he and the FOL Committee want to make sure no saguaros are damaged by the stress of wrapping and unwrapping lights around them.
Saguaros aren’t the FOL Committee’s only concern.
Indeed, the biggest right now is money.
Isaac said the loss of the Kick-Off Party and Beer Wine & Culinary Festival put a major dent in the committee’s treasury, particularly with the cost of the upcoming repairs.
He said the committee is grateful to the Foothills and Club West HOAs, which traditionally donate a combined $75,000 annually to pay for the electricity and lights set up, but that the display – particularly with the impending repairs – costs a lot more.
“The lights are going to cost somewhere around a $120,000 to $130,000,” Isaac said. “Then we’re looking at potentially another $50,000 for the repairs. We still have our agreements with the HOAs, so that brings in about $75,000 but obviously we’re still well short.”
And that’s where the Ahwatukee community can help.
So far, people and businesses have donated a total $13,000 – and Isaac is hoping more will open their hearts and their wallets at folaz.org to kick in to help.
“The response has been overwhelmingly very positive,” Phillips said. “People want the lights to stay on and they understand what we’ve all been up against this year with COVID-19 and people have been stepping up. That’s been wonderful to see.”
The wine pull – a popular attraction at beer-wine festivals of the past – will be offered the committee’s website. For $25, people can “spin” a prize wheel and win a bottle of wine that will be worth at least that much and likely more.
Additionally, the FOL Committee is offering sponsorship sweeteners – like a yard sign identifying donors of $200 or more. Sponsors who pony up $1,500 to $2,000 will get their name on a large ornament that will hang on a median in Chandler Boulevard.
And any donation, no matter how large or small, will be recognized in scrolling recognition on the FOL Committee’s website as well as in ads the committee will run in January in AFN, Isaac said.
“I think everybody needs this this holiday season,” said Isaac, who hopes the community agrees that one way to celebrate it is with the Million White Lights.