The annual Grand Illumination on the River that kicks off Chattanooga's downtown holiday season the night after Thanksgiving will be a little less grand this year after EPB, the primary sponsor for almost a decade, decided to pull its support, according to the event's producer.
EPB spokeswoman Jeri Young said the company decided to go in a different direction with its sponsorship dollars this year.
"We are not sponsoring it basically because we are looking at our donations to be more funded toward those people in need and [toward] educational opportunities," she said. "We love the [Grand] Illumination but felt like we had to make some choices."
Carla Pritchard, executive director of event producer Chattanooga Presents, said the Holiday Starlight Parade again will be a part of the overall Winter Days & Lights production that also includes Breakfast with Santa. Volkswagen Chattanooga contacted Pritchard's office about sponsoring the parade, which did not take place last year because of a lack of sponsorship.
"I am so pleased that Volkswagen Chattanooga was able to help re-establish the parade so that this family event can continue to be a part of the holiday season in Chattanooga," VW Chattanooga Chairman Frank Fischer said in a news release.
The Holiday Starlight Parade on Dec. 10 will be broadcast on WRCB-TV 3 on Dec. 17.
Breakfast with Santa will take place Nov. 26 at The Chattanoogan. Appalachian Christmas, a bluegrass music event, was eliminated from the lineup last year and will not return this year.
Pritchard said the Grand Illumination, which costs about $60,000 to produce, will be known this year as the Lighted Boat Parade, which is what it was called in 1997 when a singing Santa Claus who threw fireballs that lighted up downtown buildings was added to the decade-old boat parade on the Tennessee River. The lack of funding means no singing Santa Claus or fireworks this year, she said.
"The lighted boat parade has always been an element of the event, so that is the major focus this year," Pritchard said. She said people will be able to gather along the riverfront, enjoy hot drinks and kettle corn from vendors, join in community caroling and watch the boats.
One new item this year will be floating candle lanterns on the river, Pritchard said.
"We also hope to light the cauldrons on the waterfront, and we will have a Christmas tree," she said. "I think it will be a nice, family-friendly event with a live nativity scene with live animals."
She said businesses will be contacted to let them know that Nov. 25 is the night to light up their rooftops as they have in the past.
Pritchard said she understands that budgets are tight, and she hopes this is a one-year change.
"EPB has been a generous sponsor for many years," she said. "We get it. This is an expensive event."
Those who would like to contribute to either Pops on the River, which Chattanooga Presents also produces, or Winter Days & Lights now can make a contribution to the Community Foundation and specify the Downtown Events Fund. Donors can earmark either event or make a contribution to the general fund for both events.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...