London welcomes in Christmas season with parade

Santa waves to the crowd as he traveled in his sleigh along Main Street. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in yet another local event cancellation, although the annual Christmas On Main parade has been approved.

Commissioners with the City of London Tourist Commission discussed the two winter events during Monday's regular monthly meeting, expressing their concerns for safety as the number of positive coronavirus cases continues to rise.

Tourism Executive Director Chris Robinson told board members that a plan for the Randy Smith's Christmas on Main parade had been approved by the Laurel County Health Department and was set for Friday, Dec. 4. The parade route will begin at the North Main Kroger and will travel along Main Street to Carnaby Square as in past years.

"Mark Hensley with the health department approved the parade because it's a mile and a half long and will allow for social distancing," Robinson explained. "However, there will be no pre-activities at the courthouse and no after activities at Farmers Market."

Robinson added that local businesses and organizations are encouraged to decorate a vehicle or create a float for the parade to enhance this year's different type of celebration.

He added that the Christmas Tree Lighting will also take place on Tuesday, Dec. 1 although that will not include a ceremony due to inability to maintain social distancing. The large, graphically displayed musical holiday tree is already posed in Town Center Park, with Robinson stating that additional decorations are being added to complete a festive and photogenic Christmas scene again this year.

A new event that will allow social distancing while also adding a twist to the holiday season is Lights Around London, which encourages local residents and businesses throughout the county to light up and decorate their facilities and be a part of the revised holiday celebration. Robinson said he has been working with David Zawko on the idea.

"This is open to anyone. It will run from Dec. 5 and anyone interested can register until November 30," he added. "We already have 20 homeowners and three businesses who have registered."

Those interested in participating can visit Lights Around London's webpage and be entered.

The New Year's Eve downtown party was also discussed during Monday's meeting, with commissioners unanimously voting to cancel this year's event.

"The health department recommended that we have no event this year due to COVID and us being in the red zone," Robinson explained. "There's no way we could guarantee social distancing."

Board member Steve Berry agreed with that suggestion.

"I think that's on the smart side," he said. "We need to cancel for common sense reasons."

Another upcoming event whose future remains hanging is the Dribble Drive basketball tournament set for late December at South Laurel High School. Commissioners debated the future of that event, as well as discussing the funding request submitted for their consideration. Robinson said he was unsure whether the event would take place, with other board members voting to contribute $3,000 for the event - if it still takes place.

The campground at Levi Jackson Park was also discussed, with Park Director Joey Engle stating that the decreased bookings for winter months resulted in the back part of the campground area being closed. That closing will allow for installation and upgrades of the electrical pads in those areas. The BOGO (Buy One, Get One) discount was also dropped for the winter months, with commissioner Steve Berry stating that he had driven through the campground area during the winter months and that an average of 10 campers were all utilizing the campgrounds. He suggested that the discounts for camping during January through March be discontinued.

Seasonal staff at the park are also taking the hit for the lower winter usage, with Engle reporting that two seasonal employees had been laid off last week and more expected to be unemployed this week.

Board member Troy House also brought up the Market Museum event that will allow vendors to set up and market their goods while also highlighting the museum area of the park. Engle said the buildings in the museum area would only be used to protect the goods of vendors, with their booths being located outside.

Construction projects at Whitley Branch Veterans Park continue, with Parks and Recreation Executive Director Mackey Williams reporting that the walking trails now measured 2 1/4 miles of paved walkways. Another walking trail of 1/4 mile is also complete. Williams also reported that labor costs for those projects was $40,000 under the budgeted costs.

Daniel Carmack with London Downtown also announced the Shop Small Saturday, set for Nov. 28. That event will highlight locally owned and operated businesses. Gifts to those participating shops will also be provided. Carmack added that if new restrictions were imposed on crowds and businesses, the event would offer online sites.

An aspect of the financial status of the city tourism commission brought up in last month's meeting was also discussed. Commissioner Starr Handy said the tourism board is continuing to look into finding an organization to review the commission's expenditures and revenues. This suggestion was made during the October meeting.

A board to oversee operations and events at the fairgrounds property off KY 229 also resurfaced during Monday's meeting. Commissioner Troy House mentioned the progress of that board development, with Steve Berry suggesting that three people "with knowledge and flexibility" to be appointed to a finance committee. That way commissioners could keep a better overview of the restaurant tax revenues as potential business shutdowns could affect that funding.

Berry said the early spring shutdowns greatly affected the tourism commission's revenues, with funds going "under $100,000." The establishment of the finance committee would monitor the revenues and expenditures with regular meetings and reports submitted to the board members for review.

City Attorney Larry Bryson said the three finance board members could work with Robinson, Williams and Engle who oversee events and projects falling under the monetary disbursement of the tourism board.

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