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With Holiday Lights in the Park evicted from Washington Park in Albany, future plans are announced

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Lucas Willard
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Albany’s Capital Holiday Lights will shine in 2022 after all, but in a limited fashion.

The Capital Holiday Lights display has been a holiday tradition for a quarter century. After the city of Albany decided the event was "a huge burden" that was too disruptive to continue in Washington Park after 25 years, its sponsor, the Police Athletic League, began scouting for a new location. PAL announced Thursday it has reached an informal agreement with the Altamont Fairgrounds.

Executive Director Lenny Ricchiuti:

"You know we're still working on the agreement, finalizing the agreeement," Ricchiuti said. "Conceptually we're all there, I think. And it's just a matter of dotting the I's and crossing the T's."

But you’ll need to trade your vehicle for a screen if you want to see the lights this year.

Ricchiuti says the display will be recorded and posted online instead of the typical park drive-through.

It begins airing the evening of November 25th and will remain online through January 2nd. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says saving the lights was a team effort.

"You have to make it work," McCoy said. "It's easy to point to problems. It's easy to say you can't do something, the hardest thing is to find the solution to make it happen. And that's what we did."

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple expects the move to the hilltowns to give PAL's programs a boost.

"The County Executive and I have gone through this before, years back when the Boys and Girls Club were in trouble, we had to roll up our sleeves, kind of find some things to you know, we had to bring in some partners, and make sure that these kids at the end of the day, because it's all about you guys right there, it's all about the kids make sure these kids have something to keep them in school, keep them learning and keep them off the streets," said Apple. "And that's why we do this. That's right. So we're excited for that. You know what, the Sheriff's office doesn't have a huge role in this other than to partner and help kind of push things along. And my hope is that with the help of PAL and the Albany Police Department that serves 2000 kids today, and next year, we'll probably serve about the same. My hope is that once PAL comes out to the hilltowns, we can serve 3000, 4000 and expand our programs and get other kids from the rural areas as well and let them experience some of the things that the programs that the kids in PAL get to experience. So we're excited to partner with them. I think it's going to be a huge success out there. And we're looking forward to it."

Again, Ricchiuti:

"I guess to sum it all up, kids, cops, community. Working together for a brighter tomorrow," said Ricchiuti. "And that's what this is all about. And we look forward to keeping the lights and making them brighter than ever for our young people."

Ricchiuti says more than 2 million people have visited the Holiday Lights since the event began in November 1997. But the city eventually soured on the event, which brought traffic jams and complaints of noise and pollution to the park and the dense Center Square neighborhood.

It is anticipated that the lights at Altamont will return next year as a drive-through event in time for the 2023 holiday season.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.