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Holiday Sharing

By Jason Mandell

November 30, 2009 -- The holidays are a time for sharing, and this year the Bayside District is taking that sentiment to heart as many families are expected to tighten their purse strings during the deepest economic slump in years.

From snap-it-yourself portraits with Santa to free gift wrapping, there's something for even the most tight-fisted Scrooge looking for joy and warmth in the sometimes stressful and chilly holiday season.

“We’re focused on making this a fun, affordable and family-friendly season,” says Debbie Lee, marketing director of the Bayside District Corporation, which sponsors Winterlit.

With budgeting on everyone’s mind this year, the number of holiday shoppers is expected to be lower than usual. “I think that’s a concern across the board,” says Lee. “Which is why we’re consolidating our events and making them free or low cost.”

It’s hard to imagine that budget constraints are even an issue, given the roster of rockin’ activities planned for the holiday season. The biggest event will be the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on December 5 featuring special guest Brian McKnight, the popular R&B singer who also hosts the morning show on 94.7 FM “The WAVE.”

McKnight says the event will be a great opportunity to celebrate the holidays with the community. “It’s really important for me to get involved and to give back,” McKnight says.

In keeping with the family-friendly spirit of this year’s Winterlit, McKnight will be joined onstage by his two sons, Brian Jr. and Niko.

“What better way to have a family event than have Brian and his family singing?” says Lee.

The younger McKnights are performers in their own right – they sing, play guitar and tinkle the ivories – just like their dad, with whom they’ve sung at public concerts several times before. McKnight says they probably won’t plan their set list, as the family likes to “keep it loose.” But he predicted a few Christmas carols and at least one of his own hit songs.

The McKnight family should make this year’s tree-lighting ceremony one to remember, but let’s not forget the tree itself. At 22 feet, the tree will be decorated with brilliant colorful balls of light. As many as 1,000 people are expected to attend the free ceremony, says Lee.

Winterlit actually kicks off long before the tree is lit. On October 27, ICE at Santa Monica, the ice rink at Arizona and 5th Street, hosted a grand opening ceremony. Partnering in the event is Fox Home Entertainment, which launched the DVD release of “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”

The event literally made history. Organizers built a 48.8-foot ice sculpture of “Scrat,” the lovable prehistoric squirrel from “Ice Age.” The sculpture – unveiled before more than 800 people – is officially the tallest ice sculpture in all of world history. Just to make sure, an official from Guinness World Records was on hand to measure it.

The grand opening of the 8,000-square-foot ice rink featured a performance by the California Gold Synchronized Skating Team, which returned for the second year in a row. Composed of students from local elementary and high schools, the award-winning team performed under the choreography of former World Figure Skating Champion Randy Gardner. True to the notion of free family fun, “everyone skated for free that day,” Lee says.

After opening day on October 27, the ice rink is expected to attract 60,000 visitors over 12 weeks. The rink will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday through January 31, including Christmas Day and New Years Day. Skating costs $10, the same fee as when the rink opened three years ago. “We’ve been very dedicated to keeping it a community ice rink,” says Lee.

Most skaters are kids, thanks in part to the popularity of annual school trips that allow students to enjoy some winter fun on the ice and a new 400-square-foot rink set aside for children six and under. But Bayside officials say adults love the ice rink too, even if they’re just watching their children glide along the slippery surface.


After frolicking on the ice, families can dine at Downtown restaurants before doing their holiday shopping. “It’s our big experiential marketing push,” Lee explains.

By partnering with “The WAVE,” organizers have made sure the station’s listeners will hear all about the holiday fun Downtown, care of McKnight’s morning show as well as station announcements. “We’ll promote, promote, promote,” laughs McKnight.

Public relations firm Ballantines PR will be working on behalf of the Bayside District Corporation to get the word out as well. “They will be spending a lot of time and energy promoting our holiday events,” says Lee. “They will be making sure we get editorial coverage.”

As usual, the Bayside District Corporation will run Winterlit ads in publications such as Where magazine, Santa Monica Daily Press, The Mirror and The Argonaut. Billboards on the sides of Big Blue Buses also are part of the promotional blitz.

And this year, event organizers are taking full advantage of new media. Word of the festivities will be on the websites winterlit.com and downtownsm.com.

In addition, Lee says “Twitter” and “Facebook” will feature regular Winterlit updates. “We’ll be reminding folks what’s going on,” she says.

In mid-November, locals and visitors will begin to notice the signs of the season, when glowing spheres of light and other decorations are hung from the trees and strung across the Promenade.

Then, on November 27 and 28 between noon and 4 p.m., Santa Claus will hold court to inaugurate the holiday season. Unlike the usual mall routine, where folks have to pay for expensive portrait packages in order to pose with Santa, visitors to Downtown Santa Monica will have easy access to Santa’s lap.

“We’re telling people to bring their own cameras and have a free photo op with Santa Claus,” explains Lee.

Downtown will host a menorah lighting ceremony on December 11, the first night of Hanukah. A different synagogue will preside over the menorah lighting during each of the holiday’s eight nights.

Though the Bayside District Corporation is still without its usual Winterlit partner Santa Monica Place – which will open after a major remodel next August – it does have another important partner: the Police Activities League. PAL, which regularly hosts a range of after-school programming for disadvantaged kids, will bring plenty of young people to the ice rink.

PAL will also participate in the Best Gift Ever program, which sends letters to local community leaders asking them to think of the best gift they ever received. Then, they’re asked to donate those items to kids registered with PAL. Over 350 gifts are expected to be donated by community leaders, as well as local businesses and residents.

Everyone will be invited to participate in a gift wrapping party for the PAL kids. The gifts will then be presented at a special pancake breakfast hosted by PAL.

“Police officers will flip the pancakes and make scrambled eggs,” says Lee. “And then Santa Claus will give the kids their gifts.”

Downtown holiday shoppers will enjoy the benefits of free gift wrapping too. On key weekends, anyone with a receipt from a downtown merchant can have a picture taken with Santa Claus or gifts wrapped, free of charge, at a gift-wrapping station.

“We just wanted to put our emphasis on programs that benefit the community,” explains Lee. “We wanted to make it a more impactful holiday shopping season for everyone.”

“...on November 27 and 28 between noon and 4 p.m., Santa Claus will hold court to inaugurate the holiday season.”

“Most skaters are kids, thanks in part to the popularity of annual school trips...”

“We’re focused on making this a fun, affordable and family-friendly season,”

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