Dim finances force Allegheny County to end Hartwood holiday display

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There will be no more illuminated display of the 12 Days of Christmas at Hartwood Acres.

Allegheny County announced Monday that it is pulling the plug on the Celebration of Lights at Hartwood Acres this Christmas season.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald cited rising costs, tight finances and reduced sponsorship for the decision stop the popular event, where cars drive through holiday displays with more than 2 million lights and drivers donate money that goes to charity.

"The event was getting costlier and costlier, and more and more of the expense was shifting over to the county," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The county, which has had a hiring freeze and has seen its fund balance for emergencies shrink to less than $6 million, is not in a position to cover any significant portion of the $1.5 million annual cost for the holiday light spectacle, he said.

Adding to the financial pressures, the event's main sponsor last year, UPMC, had not made any commitment to continue its support this year, county spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

The Celebration of Lights has attracted tens of thousands of visitors each holiday season for the past 20 years and has raised almost $4 million for charities.

"This is not a decision that we made lightly," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "The cost to operate the event has increased year after year, and unfortunately, sponsorships have declined. Last year, taxpayers had to cover most of the Celebration of Lights' $1.5 million cost. With the county's limited financial resources, it is just not something that we are able to continue offering."

The Celebration of Lights was begun in 1991 with 28 displays and 250,000 lights, according to the county. The most recent display drew 170,000 visitors to the three-mile drive and generated $160,000 for charity.

The funds have benefited WTAE-TV's Project Bundle UP and the Salvation Army.

"My administration is committed to doing anything we can do to help them offset that loss and we look forward to partnering with them to meet their mission of providing new winter outwear for disadvantaged children and seniors across Western Pennsylvania," Mr. Fitzgerald said.

The Salvation Army and UPMC could not be reached for comment.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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