Holidazzle wraps up its second year as a retooled holiday celebration this weekend, and organizers of the pop-up festival say they hope to find more financial support and grow the event in years to come.
This year’s event was scaled back from last year’s version when Holidazzle was modeled after a European Christmas village. The most prominent changes included the elimination of an unpopular entrance fee and relocation of the event to Loring Park from Peavey Plaza due to construction. But there were other differences, such as swapping wooden market stalls for white tents, limiting the days and hours of operation, emphasizing local rather than international vendors and adding an ice-skating rink.
While the ice rink was a popular addition, other reviews of the festivities were mixed, with posts on the Holidazzle Facebook page noting a lack of holiday lighting and requests for more merchandise vendors.
“I thought overall they had created something [last year] they could build on,” said Francoise Shirley of Hopkins, who attended the event and hopes it will one day mimic holiday markets in other cities. “And then instead … they removed even the things that I thought were good last year, like the mulled wine, the authentic wooden booths, the quality and the quantity of the vendors.”
Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer, whose organization runs the event, said the roughly $500,000 budget was about half what it was in 2014. It shrank, in part, because of the lack of an entrance fee. That meant axing amenities like the wooden stalls custom-built by an outside production company.
The event’s future shape will likely hinge on larger private sponsorships, which Cramer said have been challenging to attract for an idea that remains fairly new. Holidazzle was a parade until it was reformatted in 2014.
“I think we would expect it to sort of continue to build momentum over the next handful of years,” said Cramer, whose group represents downtown business interests.
‘Piecing together resources’
The city of Minneapolis allocated about $400,000 this year for downtown events, about half of which Cramer said went to Holidazzle. The event also receives in-kind contributions and makes money from vendors. Cramer said they had many sponsors, but few major ones.
“So it was a question of piecing together resources from many different parties, including some of our major corporations,” Cramer said. “U.S. Bank, Target, CenterPoint, they’re all there along with many, many others. But just not at a huge level.”
He added: “Partly that might be we’re still getting used to this new event. It was similar to last year, but different in substantial ways.”
Leslie Vadnais, owner of Venus Gourmet Soups, was among the few vendors at both events — this year selling spaetzle and mushroom stroganoff. She was glad not to deal with the logistical hurdles of the outside production company, but found the more intimate, centralized layout of the Peavey Plaza market more effective.
“All of the entertainment and beer was in the middle of us, in the middle of the plaza, and we were kind of all around the main event,” Vadnais said. “And this year, it feels too spread out to me. We’re in one area, the skating rink and the warming house are in another area.”
She added: “It was a more dazzly, warmer feeling last year. I feel like the dazzle is kind of missing this year.”
Jackie Torfin of Maple Grove said she was very pleased with last year’s event, aside from the entrance fee and crowds, but disappointed this year. “We got down there and we went ‘Oh, well there’s not even anything to really shop for,’ ” Torfin said.
Cramer declined to give attendance figures, but said they were affected in part by scaling back Holidazzle operations from seven days per week to four.
“When it’s open, I think it’s been roughly equivalent to what we saw last year,” Cramer said. “So we haven’t been displeased at all by the attendance.”
Next year’s location has not been decided, but Cramer said it is their intent to return to Nicollet Mall once its reconstruction is complete in 2017.
The final weekend kicked off Friday with “Ugly Sweater Night.” It finishes Sunday night with a screening of the film “Frozen” at 5 p.m. and a fireworks display.
“I plan to go next year. I hope it’s back,” said Shirley, who also left a review on Facebook. “My hope wasn’t to squash the concept. My hope was let’s make this better.”