Two popular Temecula Christmas events are on the move.
At a recent meeting, the Temecula City Council voted to make Old Town the new home for Santa’s Electric Light Parade and the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. For nearly two decades, the parade has been held on Jefferson Avenue and the lighting ceremony was held at Duck Pond Park.
“We want to enhance the holiday spirit in Old Town,” Herman Parker, Temecula’s community service manager, said in an interview after the council decision. “We hope to start two new traditions there.”
A myriad of factors that included Old Town’s holiday sheen, additional parking and the soon-to-be-completed civic center complex factored into the relocation decision.
“We hope it will add to the ambiance that we continue to try and improve with all the lights,” Parker added. “It creates a more vibrant downtown and builds synergy in the Old Town area during the holiday season.”
The shift will create more of a compressed, intimate setting for the parade that typically attracts 20,000 or more onlookers. But it will also present some logistical challenges, said Councilwoman Maryann Edwards, who publicly broached the idea more than a month ago.
“We’ll have to be creative,” Edwards said in a separate interview. “But, there can only be one Santa, and he always comes at the end of the parade.”
The idea to move the parade and tree lighting ceremony originated when Edwards reminisced with her colleagues over the success of a temporary ice skating rink and New Year’s Eve event on the doorstep of the still-under-construction civic center complex.
“Moving to Old Town will make [Christmas] complete with all the events that have been happening down there,” she said. “It is the core of the community, especially with the focus of the new town.”
Last year’s parade, held on Jefferson Avenue on Dec. 4, attracted about 30,000 onlookers, one of the largest crowds ever, according to a city employee at the time. About 40 city employees and volunteers helped plan and stage the 17th annual parade.
Although the parade has typically been one of the city’s most popular annual events, some parts of the Jefferson Avenue route between Del Rio Road and Overland Drive have often been sparsely lined with onlookers in the past.
In contrast, attendance at the annual July 4 parade, which is held in Old Town, is usually elbow-to-elbow in most locations.
“Where the [Christmas] parade was before, the street was so wide,” Edwards said. “There was no intimacy. Jefferson is like 80 feet wide compared to the narrow streets of Old Town. There is such a difference and it’ll give it more of a small town feel.”
Part of the difference will be a $15.8 million public parking garage that survived its first major test last month during the annual spring Rod Run. The multi-level garage provides more than 470 free spaces at Main and Mercedes streets. It was the first segment of a larger city project to open at that location.
The garage is part of Temecula’s sprawling civic center complex, which will fill about five acres at that intersection and is expected to cost about $73 million.
City officials have said the remainder of the project – which will house the new City Hall as well as an outdoor plaza, fountain, mosaic mural, retail shops, a visitors center and a police satellite office – should open as early as September.
Future Electric Light Parades will now begin at Santiago Road and proceed north on Old Town Front Street before ending at Moreno Road.
Another aspect of the shift will be to introduce more shoppers and diners to what city officials call the “Old Town experience.” Like the Rod Run and many other community events held in Old Town, the Christmas parade could help make cash registers jingle in the city’s historic business district.
City officials note that parade onlookers will be able to also immerse themselves in good eats, acoustic, jazz or rock music and an array of fine wines, beer pints, and spirit sips. Carriage rides have also added color to Old Town’s streets during past holidays.
The parade will have to be revamped because of the move, Edwards said. The new parade route will be shorter and have height restrictions, which could result in fewer floats. But it will not require additional city funds to stage or oversee, officials said.
An existing pine tree at the former site of the tree lighting ceremony – the city Duck Pond Park at Ynez and Rancho California roads – will continue to be decorated in future holiday seasons.
City officials plan to purchase a 32-foot artificial outdoor Christmas tree for future Old Town ceremonies. That tree will be placed in the town square area at the doorstep of the future City Hall. That artificial tree is expected to cost $18,000 to purchase, store and maintain, officials said.
The expectations of Christmases to come have left city officials anxious for the end of the year.
“Old Town is an easy place to take your kids, sightsee and visit all the different shops,” Edwards said. “We hope it will foster a sense of community.”