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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 8 years ago

Lightning risk may zap holiday lights

by: Robin Roy City Editor

A proposal to attract shoppers downtown by creating a “festival of lights” in Five Points Park could be thwarted because a city official said it would increase the risk of getting struck by lightning and would impede the growth of the trees.

After John Anderson, owner of MoZaic Restaurant, suggested putting holiday lights in the trees at the park, Todd Kucharski, general manager of public works, e-mailed this response: “You would be installing wire that would increase the probability for lightning strikes. If the lights were to remain for a long period of time, the wire will restrict the growth of the tree.”

Anderson’s responded: “Mr. Kucharski, in the future, please try to find reasons to support community efforts that are intended to make Sarasota a more enjoyable city, instead of using these lame excuses to oppose community initiatives.”

Several merchants thought that creating something special downtown for the holidays would draw shoppers away from the malls.

“It would make downtown more welcoming and make the park safer,” said Wendy Getchell, president of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance.

After Kucharski warned about the lightning risk, Forrest Shaw, owner of Pastry Art, said the city does not appear willing to help business owners.

“It seems at every turn the city is finding new ways to discourage the efforts of people who love our city and who just want to build a sense of community,” he said.

Kucharski said he was only making a recommendation and that he would work on a compromise. He said he feared that if organizers wrapped the lights too tightly, it could harm the tree, and he said any time wiring is introduced it increases the likelihood of lightning.

But according to ABC-7 Chief Meteorologist Bob Harrigan, there is no increased risk of a lightning strike.

“Lightning is attracted to the tallest object in the area,” he said. “The only way lights would make a difference is if they were taller than the tree itself.”

Harrigan said the trees at Five Points Park would actually be safer than trees in other areas, because the tall buildings surrounding the park would most likely attract any lightning.

After a few complaints last week, City Manager Bob Bartolotta said he planned to come up with a solution that would please both sides, but he did not say whether that solution would include lights in the trees.

City officials could not be reached by press time to confirm if that solution was reached.

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