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