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Fantasy of Lights sets new mark despite lack of snow

January 1, 2019

A Fort Wayne holiday attraction ended its 24th season on New Year’s Eve more popular than ever.

Blue Jacket’s Fantasy of Lights marked a second consecutive year of record-breaking attendance despite a lack of snow, the nonprofit announced Monday.

“Historically, when we see a light snow, people come out because they get that sense of winter and Christmas,” Kevin Pothast, Blue Jacket director of operations, said in a statement. “We find attendance usually does better on those nights because the lights kind of go along with that.”

An estimated 109,000 people in 21,777 cars visited the drive-thru holiday lights display in Franke Park, up from 20,680 vehicles in 2017.

The 2018 total didn’t include attendance from Monday’s “Pay What You Want Night.” On other nights, admission was $10 per car. 

Proceeds benefit Blue Jacket’s Career Academy, a two-week, 40-hour job-readiness training program. Blue Jacket provides graduates transitional jobs, job placement and pre- and post-placement services, according to the agency.

The organization’s clients include ex-offenders, immigrants, those with disabilities, young people and the homeless.

This year, Blue Jacket hired graduates to staff Fantasy of Lights : an event first, marketing director Brad Saleik has said. He acknowledged the decision might have disappointed volunteers who previously staffed the attraction, but organizers seized the opportunity to give its graduates work experience.

Having a consistent staff was also appealing logistically, Saleik said.

“We saw this as an opportunity to make the event run smoother, especially during the busier times,” Saleik told The Journal Gazette before Christmas, noting volunteers would sometimes be trained daily.

The two-mile Fantasy of Lights route featured almost 300,000 LED lights and nearly 120 displays.

The light display has become a holiday tradition for many, Saleik said.

This season, Fantasy of Lights was the setting for three marriage proposals and a military father and husband’s surprise return home.

“The stories that were shared with us throughout the year blew us away,” Saleik said in a statement. “Moments that are so intimate in the lives of some of these people that we were allowed to share. It’s special, just like the event.”

asloboda@jg.net

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