Council plan to brighten holidays

ALEX FENSOME AND KATIE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 27/03/2014

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Weta could be paid $1 million to create a dramatic New Year display under Wellington City Council plans for holiday celebrations.

The plan also calls for prominent landmarks such as the cable car to be wrapped like presents in the runup to Christmas, and for new lights to decorate the streets.

The council will be presented with the plan today. It comes after it was criticised for Scrooge-like behaviour last year over its lack of Christmas lights.

Business people and the public complained the inner city was joyless and grey after the council retired decorations around the city without replacing them.

Under the new proposal, Weta would be asked to create an "on-harbour light projection display" for New Year's Eve.

New street lights, Christmas trees and banners would be set up, while the cable car and other "icon features" would be wrapped up like presents.

The council spends $295,000 on Christmas and New Year. If the plan is approved, it would spend an additional $500,000 this year. In total it could cost up to $1.5 million over two years, with $800,000 to $1m earmarked for Weta in 2016.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said that Wellington would have a "vibrant, memorable December 2014".

The leadup to Christmas would include local family events, street decorations, and more shop window dressing, as well as a Christmas tree and Santa Parade. "We'll also make sure people want to be here for New Year's Eve. We'll see in 2015 with a bang and we're in the planning stage for a new three-day music festival."

Earlier in the day it emerged that the council had rejected plans for a Christmas light festival that proposed turning the Beehive into a Christmas cake and St James Theatre into Santa's workshop.

First Star Communications, which came up with the plans, said that the council saw them as too expensive and "following the northern hemisphere".

Yesterday creative director Adam Blackwell said the design was based on best practice worldwide that helped to boost retail.

"Most of Wellington's events are great at supporting hospitality; the Wellington Festival of Christmas was designed to support retail as well."

The Retailers Association urged councillors to fund festive promotions, saying they should be trying to emulate New York at Christmas time.

That city was renowned for its Christmas decorations and atmosphere, the association's government relations manager, Barry Hellberg, said. "If New York can do it, why can't Wellington do something similar?"

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said parts of the First Star Communications idea were brilliant, but the cost of up to $1.4m and the time of year ruled it out. It did not get dark until almost 10pm in summer, so many people, including youngsters, would miss out on the lights.

Watch a video of the Wellington Festival of Christmas proposal

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