Light Rain


Local business owners await city approval for 50-foot holiday tree

By Corene Brisendine

Merry Christmas, Manhattan!

A group of business owners have come together to fund placement of a 50-foot holiday tree in Blue Earth Plaza.

And yes, that’s a big, big tree.

Brad Everett, manager of the Hilton Garden Inn, said Colin Noble came to him a couple of months ago with the idea of putting up the tree in the plaza, which is between their hotels.

Noble owns the Cottonwood Suites east of the plaza and the Hilton Garden Inn is across the street west of the plaza.

Everett said Noble also went to the other business owners in the downtown area and asked for support of the idea.

“It started as a conversation with Gwyn Riffel and grew from there,” Noble said. “We didn’t know it would be so big when we started.”

Everett said June Schnittker, co-owner of Master Landscape, came up with a design and layout for the lights at the plaza.

The only thing that would keep the tree from going up is getting a go-ahead from the city commission. Because the Plaza is city property, the business owners must get permission from the city to put up the tree and hang the lights.

Eddie Eastes, acting director for parks and recreation, said a contract would be presented to the commission on Nov. 5 for approval.

Everett said the designs include blue lights for the real trees in the plaza, white lights for the trees in front of each hotel, a swag border around the 50-foot artificial tree, wreaths on the buildings, pinnacle tress throughout the plaza in a variety of colors and white lights lining the tops of the buildings surrounding the plaza.

Noble said the original idea was to erect a 20-foot tree, but the tree grew like everything else.

Now, the group has ordered a 50-foot tree that will twinkle to the rhythm of holiday music played every half-hour. The tree is being built by Holiday Display Services of Kansas City.

Noble said it is one of the tallest holiday trees ever to be displayed in the state.

Everett said the hope is to have all the lights on the trees and the buildings to blink with the music, but that won’t be done this year.

Noble said the biggest challenge with creating the holiday light show was timing. He said if they had come together sooner, they would have been able to get more sponsors involved to create a bigger display.

But there’s always next year.

As for this holiday season, Everett said they definitely would have the tree and some other lights to sparkle in the plaza.

Jill Dupler, designer at Master Landscape, said Schnitttker was traveling with her daughter, Shannon, to Omaha on Monday – hoping to pick up the lights for the plaza.

“This is all coming together at the 11th hour, so to speak,” Everett said.

He said the plan is to get all the lights up this year by Nov. 29, when they plan to hold a lighting ceremony at the Plaza.

The lights will be turned on at 7 p.m.

At that time, the lights will blink in time to holiday music for 10 to 15 minutes. Everett said although this year the core group — Noble, Everett, Riffel, Ward Morgan and Wade Radina — paid for the tree, they hope to get more sponsors next year to put up smaller pinnacle trees, which are strings of lights attached to a tall center pole made to look like trees, around the plaza.

Radina, owner of Radina’s Coffeehouse, said he wanted to help liven up Manhattan’s city center.

“Downtown always looked nice, but we never had a big holiday area,” he said. “This is a place where we can anchor the downtown area that will draw people in. We’re hoping it will grow into a pretty big deal.”

Radina said he would be offering hot drinks during the lighting event with the proceeds going to a local charity.

Everett said the group is trying to coordinate with the Manhattan Foundation to help the local charities, as well as allowing people to make their donations a tax deduction.

Noble said coach rides will also be stopping at the plaza, which has become a holiday tradition downtown for several years.

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