Just because the weather is growing older and the days are growing dimmer doesn’t mean a beautiful town like Madison can’t shine.
That’s the philosophy behind a new push from community and business leaders that would seek to Light Up Madison, bringing a swath of decoration and celebration to the town in time for the holidays, and offering businesses a boost during the slower winter months.
A request for proposals (RFP) went out for the project through the Economic Development Commission (EDC) last week. The project is budgeted at $7,000, though that number could rise through contributions by private businesses and residents, according to the RFP.
The RFP asks for a lighting design that will “celebrate the diverse holiday season” from Nov. 23 to Jan. 31 and cover downtown from Route 79 to Wall Street, running all the way up Wall Street to Bradley Road.
Madison Beach Hotel Executive Director John Mathers, who brought the idea to the EDC and the Chamber of Commerce, said he was directly inspired by the longtime success of a similar practice in another New England city.
The Nantucket Stroll, an annual event that has been held in the island town of Nantucket, Massachusetts for almost 50 years, regularly brings a cheery surge of attention and visitors to a place that historically is more known for its summer amenities.
“They sell out all the hotels…People just can’t get on the island, it’s such a popular event,” Mather said. “We just thought, wouldn’t it be neat if we could create some sort of an event with that level of excitement in Madison.”
Mathers said there is no expectation that in its first year, this event will bring the same level of crowds as Nantucket’s, which was canceled this year due to COVID concerns. But he said that he hopes that Light Up Madison can start by offering a boost to people’s spirits as they confront the dual stressors of winter gloom and a continuing global pandemic.
“It’s an opportunity to lighten up everybody—lighten up our spirits, lighten up our lives,” Mathers said. “And hopefully drive business to our merchants.”
Mathers said he didn’t envision there being a huge number of formally structured events like in Nantucket, which has sponsored Christmas caroling, tree-lighting ceremonies, and various live shows and performances. Instead, he said businesses, non-profits, and even the town itself could leverage the atmosphere and attention for their own events: high school sports team fundraisers, galas, sales, and other “independent things that are going on in Madison.”
“We’d like to bring them all under one umbrella so someone could say, ‘Wow, look at everything that’s going on in Madison…You gotta go check it out, it’s beautiful and so much is going on,’” Mathers said.
In conversations with the Madison Chamber of Commerce, Mathers said there are already preliminary plans for a winter craft mart downtown, a luminary event on the beach, and a gingerbread contest, among other things.
Everything will depend on what is allowed or advisable under COVID guidelines, Mathers cautioned, with specifics still in the preliminary stages.
But he said he was very hopeful that Light Up Madison will provide a boost to the town’s spirit, as well as jolt for its businesses in this challenging year, with the hope of much bigger things to come.
“One of our biggest concerns is surviving in this COVID time, so we’re looking for ways to keep Madison excited for people to visit and for our residents to get out and enjoy our town as much as possible,” Mathers said.