Monday, June 24, 2024

$220,000 ‘fix’ proposed for city’s Holiday Lights at the Beach attraction

Virginia Beach, VA (Courtesy of
Virginia Beach, VA (Courtesy of

VIRGINIA BEACH – The city’s Holiday Lights on the Beach display needs a major overhaul at a cost of more than $220,000, according to officials.

Event organizers have deemed certain installations unsafe due to weakness in their steel structures and hope to replace or refurbish them in time for this year’s display, at an estimated cost of $223,000, according to a presentation that Bobby Melatti, the holiday lights program director, gave last week to the Resort Advisory Commission.

“We’ve reached the point where we’re losing the war,”  Melatti said.

Visitors may not immediately notice if some displays are removed and not replaced, “but at some point you’re going to notice that the show just doesn’t have it anymore. And customers will tell you that the following year,” Melatti said.

Resort Administrator Mike Eason is in the process of determining how to fund the new purchases. More than one dozen pieces will be replaced or refurbished, according to a Resort Advisory Commission report.

The city allocates funds each year from the Tourism Investment Program to BeachStreetUSA, which runs Holiday Lights on the Beach and other events, such as the American Music Festival.

“What we’re talking about here is certainly more than what we’ve spent in the past. That’s why we’re going through the due diligence process,” Eason said.

Last year’s display featured a new installment that cost about $20,000, he said.

The drive-thru display drew more than 26,500 vehicles during its most recent run, which went from the weekend before Thanksgiving to Jan. 2. Tickets are $15 per vehicle.

Admission fees, sponsors, an annual $50,000 contribution from the city and about $4,000 in “other” income covered all but about $5,000 of the display’s expenses, which totaled $447,000, according to a summary provided by the city.

An associated attraction, Santa’s Seaside Village, totaled $97,000 in expenses and about $76,000 in income, including a $10,000 state tourism grant.

BeachStreetUSA absorbed the roughly $26,000 loss between the two attractions.

Still, Melatti told the commission, “we don’t want to lose this.”

Commissioners William Almond, Nancy Creech and Bill Gambrell agreed with Melatti, and voiced support in the meeting, both for the continuation of the program and the improvements.

“I don’t think we should do away with this,” Creech said. “It’s a really popular event. It’s hard to get something going during the winter months.”

The Tourism Investment Program, which is funded primarily through taxes on restaurants, hotels and amusements, has a 2016 budget of $36.8 million, according to Catherine Whitesell, the city’s director of budget and management services. Of that, $3.9 million has been allotted to BeachStreetUSA for entertainment throughout the city.

“If we don’t sell any more tickets than we sold last year, then we have $225,000 taken out of the Beach Street funding,” Eason said.

It’s important to make stakeholders aware of the potential loss, according to Eason.

“I don’t feel comfortable making that decision on my own,” he said. “That’s why I’m making sure the city manager and everybody else knows what we’re proposing to do.”

Holiday Lights on the Beach expenses for the most recent year, according to a summary provided by the city:

  • Marketing: $33,872
  • Equipment Rentals: $13,326
  • Supplies: $31,363
  • Labor: $240,835
  • Light Displays: $71,974
  • Operating Expenses: $15,025
  • Taxes: $30,414
  • Sponsor Commission: $10,500
  • Total: $447,309.21

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact Business reporter Hillary Smith  at or 757-490-2750.

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