SC loves its holiday displays. But they cost you money.

December 25, 2018

For a holiday meet-and-greet this month hosted by the city of Charleston, Mrs. Claus needed a new gown. That, along with some accessories for her white-bearded, cherry-nosed husband, cost the city around $400.

In Greenville, to kick off the holiday season in November the city paraded eight Budweiser Clydesdale horses down Main Street while attendants handed out cases of beer to local restaurants. For extra police patrols, the city paid $780.

And in the capital city, Columbia’s holiday ice rink, though thousands visit, lost about $57,000 last year.

In South Carolina this month the bevy of public holiday activities and decorations seems to be popular everywhere. Local governments decorate their downtowns with festive lights to lure visitors and please locals.

City parades draw thousands. Holiday trees go up. The ice for public skating rinks is cut.

But as local leaders tend not to skimp on the extravagance — in keeping with the holiday spirit, after all — the costs shouldered by local governments for these activities can add up.

One of the largest holiday showcases in the state, the Holiday Festival of Lights on James Island, boasts a display of roughly 2 million lights. But it comes with an electric bill of roughly $1,000 a night for nearly two months.

The Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission has moved to rein in those costs by switching many of the traditional, energy-sucking light bulbs out for LED alternatives, spokeswoman Sarah Reynolds said.

That savings, along with admission charges, actually help the Holiday Festival of Lights make money. Last year, its costs were $1.4 million, while its revenues surpassed $2.1 million.

Most municipal light shows and holiday events are served up for free. North Charleston’s costs to light up Park Circle and operate its Christmas parade run around $28,000, city spokesman Ryan Johnson said.

For Charleston’s “Holiday Magic” series in December, which includes a downtown parade along with a tree lighting and holiday market in Marion Square, the costs added up to more than $77,400 last year.

That included $30,200 in decorations, $12,500 for staging equipment and $11,600 for the lights display in Marion Square.

Few dispute the value these events offer. Several include traditions dating back decades. Governments in putting them on are looking to boost the public’s spirit, not make a buck, local leaders said.

Charleston’s holiday offerings typically draw 50,000 residents downtown each year, which boosts sales for local restaurants and shops, city spokesperson Cameron Wolfsen said.

“In short, it’s one of the most popular series the city puts on every year,” Wolfsen said.

Columbia’s holiday ice rink last year brought in about $97,000 in revenue, with expenses of more than $153,000. The rink’s finances were first reported by The Post and Courier’s sister paper, Free Times.

The venture has lost money every year since it debuted in 2012. But the event drew more than 11,000 visitors last year.

“Like most parks, it was never meant to turn a profit but has indeed generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and priceless memories for our citizens,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said.

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