Nights of Lights burns into city’s pockets

Despite the inherent costs of the annual Nights of Lights, Travis Sheltra, owner of Pizzalleys on Saint George Street, believes it is just what this town needs.

The annual Nights of Lights is an event inspired by the city’s origins of Spanish tradition of displaying a lighted white candle during the Christmas holidays. Millions of white Christmas lights decorate the city of St. Augustine and Flagler College. The lighting reflects the city’s 444 year of history making. The event starts Nov. 21 and goes through the end of January.

During the first night of the event locals and tourists gather around the historic Plaza de la Constitucion to watch the town light up before their eyes. The city honors members of the community with invitations to “flip the switch” to light the entire city.

Paul Williamson, the Director of Public Affairs for the City of St. Augustine, estimates this year’s Nights of Lights will cost the St. John’s County Tourism Division and the City of St. Augustine approximately $120,000. The cost is split between the St. John’s County Tourism Division, which gains it revenue from tourist’s dollars such as hotel’s bed tax, and the city and county.

The majority of the funding comes from the St. John’s County Tourism Division, but a small amount of funding comes from St. Augustine taxpayer dollars.

“I think it is absolutely worth it to spend a little money on the Nights of Lights. It’s a great time of year that brings so much joy and happiness,” said Susan von Spreckelson, St. Johns county resident and co-owner of Second Hand Books in St. Augustine.

“On a personal level, the joy of seeing the lights on my Christmas tree and the decorations around the house is so fulfilling,” she said. “Take that feeling and multiply it by thousands and you get the Nights in the past,” Sheltra said. “This year we have had less customers than we had expected and hope the Nights of Lights can draw in some business.”

Williamson said the event contributes to the city and the county overall, drawing in plenty of tourists who will eat and stay in the city generating enough revenue to make it profitable. Businesses throughout St. Augustine believe they profit greatly from the Nights of Lights.

“Without the Nights of Lights mine and other businesses would suffer,” said von Spreckelson. “It is like a domino effect, without the lights there are less tourists, which affects the trolley rides, horse carriages and businesses all around town. The economic impact that the Nights of Lights has on the city far outweighs the cost.”

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