Update: To ensure the annual tradition continues, the City of Sarasota will hold a brief ceremonial tree lighting at St. Armands Circle on Friday, Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Citing “restrictions” caused by the new Winter Spectacular event at St. Armands, Rachel Burns, the executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, has announced that the annual Holiday Night of Lights, which was scheduled for Dec. 2, has been canceled.
Although not specific as to the restrictions imposed on the 43-year tree lighting event, in an email to SACA members, Burns explained the six-week festival in Circle Park set for Nov. 18-Jan. 3 rendered the traditional tree lighting celebration impossible. City commissioners this week gave the new winter festival final approval.
The email read: “The restrictions placed on the St. Armands Circle Association for Holiday Night have made it impossible for us to present a celebration on Friday, December 2nd for the public this year, but we look forward to celebrating Holiday Night of Lights with you in 2023.”
Burns did not respond to a request by deadline to detail the restrictions imposed by the festival.
On Oct. 3, Sarasota City Commission approved Ride Entertainment's request to put on the Winter Spectacular, which was presented as a one-time event to highlight the Circle's new 60-foot holiday tree, which was erected in Circle Park earlier this week.
The amusements company was joined by St. Armands Circle restaurant owner Tom Leonard in the request. Leonard is also chair of the St. Armands Circle Association Board of Directors, which partnered with Burns and SACA in securing a $286,000 grant from the city to replace the 20-year-old tree.
The two have been on opposing sides ever since, Burns saying several annual events will have to be moved or canceled because of the festival. Holiday Nights is one such casualty.
An email from Winter Spectacular organizers expressed surprise in the Holiday Night of Lights cancellation.
“To say we were shocked and saddened by this announcement would be an understatement,” it read. “We were looking forward to the SACA tree lighting events. We (the Winter Spectacular) were planning to go dark with our events in order to accommodate their event on that one night.”
In approving the festival, city leaders are temporarily reconfiguring some parking on the western leg of the Circle and redistributing those spaces elsewhere. For the duration of the festival, 16 angles parking spots will be remade into eight parallel parking spaces, in concert with Florida Department of Transportation to help accommodate traffic flow.
The eight missing spaces will be distributed elsewhere around the Circle.