Augusta group raises money to bring Christmas lights downtown

Officials in Augusta are hoping an investment in solar-powered Christmas lights will bring more visitors to the community and more shoppers downtown.

Cindy Hicks, executive director of Downtown Augusta Inc., said Tuesday that the $10,000 her organization raised in partnership with the Augusta Community Foundation has been used to purchase strands of solar-powered, LED lights that will be placed on more than 29 trees in the four-block downtown area on Saturday.

The lighted display serves to revive the former Ignite Augusta, a volunteer-supported holiday light show in Garvin Park that Hicks said used to attract visitors from Wichita, El Dorado and other outlying cities.

“We got a grant (several years ago) to redo the streets and sidewalks downtown but we didn’t have Christmas lights,” Hicks said.

Her hope is a new light show downtown will benefit businesses there.

“We are drawing people to the downtown area,” Hicks said. “When you draw people to a downtown area, you have more business.”

The lights won’t actually be turned on until Nov. 29, Hicks said, which is Small Business Saturday, a national marketing event created five years ago to boost shopping at local merchants the day after Black Friday.

The money to purchase the lights came from contributions by individual donors and businesses. Hicks said she even received a $20 donation from a woman living in North Carolina whose grandchildren live in Augusta.

Hicks said the first business to contribute was Cooper Drug Store, which has been in downtown Augusta since 1922.

Cooper Drug owner Brett Kappelmann, the pharmacy and gift store’s second-generation owner, said he was “really pulled to make a contribution” to the holiday lighting effort.

“We just needed someone to take the leadership, and they did,” Kappelmann said.

Hicks said her group chose to go with the solar-powered lights because it negated the problem of how to string power cords across sidewalks – and there will be no cost to power them. She said the group bought one strand of lights to test their effectiveness, and placed it on a tree downtown.

“A couple of weeks ago, a Monday, I think, it was gloomy and cloudy all day,” she said. “After a city council meeting that night, I went by and they were blinking just as bright as they were after a sunny day.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.