Vandals, funding dim prospects for Mill lights

LIGHTS OUT: Mill Avenue might not be as festive this holiday season because of reported vandalism problems as well as funding shortages. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

“In all honesty, it’s very bare,” said Nancy Hormann, president and executive director of Downtown Tempe Community, Inc., at a meeting of the city’s neighborhood quality of life and revitalization council committee on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

She detailed the DTC’s lighting plans and funding situation for downtown Tempe’s 2011 Fantasy of Lights, which includes stringing holiday lights through the Mill Avenue District and two parades.

“For some reason this past year, we had an amazing amount of vandalism downtown,” said Hormann, referring to the holiday lights on Mill Avenue.

“It was an everyday occurrence with our contractor to fix the lights that went around the tree trunks, and we said we need to do something in order to change the design,” she said. “We had a tremendous amount of trouble when the bars closed … (Vandals) would pull (the lights) out, cut them, (and) take lights out of the sockets.”

Hormann said it cost $3,000 to $4,000 last year just to maintain the lights from vandalism damage.

Tempe Police Sgt. Steve Carbajal said the department doesn’t regularly track vandalism. He said no specific demographic is responsible for the damage, as students, Tempe residents and non-Tempe residents all routinely visit Mill Avenue.

“Just from my experience, I don’t see that being a huge problem on Mill (Avenue),” Carbajal said.

However, General Manager Kevin Rodgers of Blondie’s Sports Bar and Grill on Fifth Street and Mill Avenue said the problem is widespread.

“It’s definitely an issue down here, across the board,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers’ mother traveled from Las Vegas to decorate the exterior of the sports bar with wreaths and candy canes.

“These people were ripping the decorations down, for no other reason but to be destructive,” Rodgers said.

Problems with vandalism have led Hormann and the DTC to focus clusters of star and snowflake-shaped lighting in the sidewalk tree canopies alone from Rio Salado Parkway to Third Street and Seventh Street to University Drive this year. Swooping lights will hang between Fourth Street and Seventh Street.

“We’re not going to put anything in the trees low enough to reach without a ladder,” Hormann said.

Funding is also a major factor in decreasing the lights’ presence. Hormann said the budget for the lights is about half of what it was three years ago. The proposed plan would cost $55,000.

According to Arizona law, criminal damage can be punishable as a felony if the damaged property costs more than $1,000. It is a misdemeanor when damage totals less.

The lights are turned on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and come down after Dec. 31 each year. Hormann said it’s been a Tempe tradition for the last 15 to 20 years.

The DTC is hoping to receive further funds in order to keep the Fantasy of Lights tradition alive.

“It creates an ambience (and) an experience that’s beautiful during the holidays,” Hormann said.

 

Reach the reporter at sksmith9@asu.edu