NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK – 2017 may have just started, but Niagara Falls community leaders are already dreaming of a white Christmas.
A new effort is underway to revive the Festival of Lights. The season-long event was a staple of downtown Niagara Falls from its inception in 1980 until the event was cancelled in 2004. Although a smaller version of the festival has been held in recent years at Hyde Park, there is a new movement this year to bring back the spirit of the event in its full glory.
“People always have a nostalgic story to tell about the Festival of Lights,” says Seth Piccirillo, the Director of Community Development for the city. “We felt that it was time to bring it back.”
Nostalgia is not the only reason for bringing the annual festival back from its hiatus.
“The city is seeing a lot of new development,” says Piccirillo. “With the new hotels and shops opening all over the city, we have a lot to show off.”
The development mentioned by Piccirillo is the start of a massive revival of Niagara Falls. Several recent announcements, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion and Buffalo Billion Squared projects, have increased the viability of the city. These announcements include projects to restore the city’s waterfront, as well as putting vacant properties back on the market. A slew of new hotels have also risen in areas of the city that have not seen new business in decades.
This revival has been assisted by the LiveNF program, which aims to unite the local population. The program offers incentives to potential residents and businesses, while also showing off the Niagara Falls community. LiveNF has particularly taken off on social media, due in part to the interest from the younger members of the city.
“The vibe has been changing the last couple years,” says Piccirillo. “There is renewed interest in bringing the city back to its heyday.” Piccirillo explains that younger Millennials, many of whom were too young to remember the original Festival of Lights, are showing a passion for the city that has been lacking in recent years.
This passion is a key part in reviving the festival, which combines the nostalgia of the original with a modern twist.
“We’re not trying to recreate the old festival,” says Piccirillo, whose parents were involved in making the original event a success in the 1980s. “The event started to taper off toward the end of its run. We don’t want that to happen.” Piccirillo explains that the plan is to revive the spirit of the festival with a modern twist.
One of the goals for the new festival is to connect the various holiday events that are currently filling the vacuum that the cancellation of the original festival left in the city. These events include the holiday lights in Hyde Park, the tree lighting at the Seneca Niagara casino, a holiday trolley, and the life-size gingerbread village at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.
“We also plan to have a holiday market on Old Falls Street,” says Piccirillo. The city had previously held a small holiday market in 2011.
While new plans continue to develop, old favorites are also set to make a triumphant return.
“It is crucial that we bring ice skating back to downtown,” says Piccirillo. “Everyone remembers skating in Lackey Plaza; that memory is ingrained in the festival’s tradition.”
Another event sewn into the fabric of the festival is the Christmas parade.
“We absolutely need to bring back the parade,” says Piccirillo. “Everybody in the community was part of the parade.”
The most important part of bringing the Festival of Lights back to Niagara Falls is community involvement. The event will rely heavily on volunteers, and the goal is to use the festival to unite the city’s population.
“This is really a community project,” says Piccirillo, who explains that he understands what the citizens of the city can achieve. “We want to show off what Niagara Falls is all about.”
Anybody interested in volunteering for the Festival of Lights can sign up on the LiveNF Facebook page.