WJVO Seeks Seed Money From City For Festival of Lights Display

By Benjamin Cox on May 24, 2023 at 5:26pm

The Jacksonville City Council was talking Christmas on Monday night.

WJVO/WJIL General Manager Sarah Shellhammer says her radio stations are partnering with Eric & Nicole Dooley of Carthage to bring a Festival of Lights to Jacksonville. Shellhammer says she is in the process of raising about $75,000 to place the lights at the Morgan County Fairgrounds, starting the day after Thanksgiving this year and running through New Year’s Eve. She says the Dooleys’ Company, which runs the Quincy Festival of Lights, does all the hard work: “They come in. They design it. They will look at your space. They set it all up for you. They bring a crew in here for like a week. They set the whole thing up. It will break the day after the Christmas parade, which is the day after Thanksgiving and it will run through the end of the year; so it will be about a 6-week event. The great thing about using a company to do this is, though, is that every year, we get to pick and choose which will be a new display every year. So, Quincy might have ‘Candy Land’ this year. We can get it next year so there can be a new display every year.”

Shellhammer says another cost savings is that the third-party company will own and store all of their own equipment.

Shellhammer was asking for $20,000 seed money to start what would become an annual tradition for the City of Jacksonville. The charge would be $10 per car to drive around the display, which would encompass over half the fairgrounds. Shellhammer says the seed money will start things with the gate fees acting as seed money for the display for the following year. She says the hope is to start a 501(c)3 organization for running the annual display.

Mayor Andy Ezard says the City of Jacksonville needs to be a player somehow in funding the 6-week long display: “I think what Sarah and her staff have done for the community over the past couple of years, you know, their track record is very good at community-wide events. To get a Festival of Lights display started, there is a lot of seed money involved and I believe the city needs to be a part of that. Her ask was $20,000 from the city if that’s what we settle on, I don’t have a problem with that. We have kind of identified that money would be taken out of Video Gaming revenues. [That revenue] is kind of designed for events like that – economic development, which this would be one. Not only would it draw our citizens but people from the surrounding small towns.”

Ezard says the city won’t be lone entity on the hook for the ask on this particular event: “I think we are thriving as far as always looking for things for families to do. This is one of those type of events. It won’t be just the city that she’s seeking sponsorships from. It will be businesses, service organizations, potentially the Village of South Jacksonville, whoever she goes to – that’s her charge. She’ll be doing the leg work on that, but I feel that the city needs to be a player in this and I see it as a good fit for all of us.”

Ward 2 Alderwoman Lori Large-Oldenettel brought up the fact during the workshop session that this is the third straight city council meeting where an outside entity has come to request money from the city for different projects. She says there needs to be some concrete criteria in place for organizations to request funds from the city.

Mayor Ezard says that the city’s financial landscape is changing: “Things have changed a lot in just the last 3-4 years as far as folks coming to the city on requests. They are all good requests, and we want to help everybody. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we can’t. I think people do understand that there are new revenue streams that are coming in – video gaming like I mentioned and cannabis money that will be coming in. Those are two areas that we could take a look at to try to help, even if it’s not for the full amount of the ask. If it can at least meet halfway or play a small part to help people, we are always going to look into that and be willing to do it, but it needs to benefit the community. This Festival of Lights definitely is needed. We don’t really have a big one in this area, and I think we can see that coming.”

Shellhammer told the city that she was hoping to meet a deadline of June 1st. However, the request was not on the agenda. City Attorney Dan Beard says that an action item for this request and an outstanding request from Jacksonville Area Baseball will likely appear on the council’s next meeting agenda on June 12th.