By Jef Rietsma
A beloved centerpiece to Vicksburg’s annual holiday season will be missing this year. With great reluctance, members of the village council voted Oct. 19 to cancel the 2020 Christmas parade.
Alex Lee, director of community engagement, delivered the news toward the conclusion of the meeting.
“The Christmas in the Village Committee has been meeting since late August. We have tried everything possible to delay an unpopular but necessary decision,” he said. “We tried to wait out the pandemic … with COVID-19 cases rising in the state and in the county, and in the shadow of some of our bigger cities in the county canceling holiday events, here we are with our backs against the wall in terms of time. The Christmas in the Village Committee feels for those reasons and for the safety of our citizens, we will be forced to cancel the Christmas parade and many of the activities usually associated with Christmas in the village.”
But there was a silver lining. Lee said the committee has assembled a series of events that will still celebrate the holiday season. He elaborated on what is being called “an outside-in Christmas in the Village.”
“What that means is we want families to enjoy activities in the safety of their vehicles or walking with family outside using masks and social distancing,” he added. “To that end, the committee has adopted an approach that we hope to kick off Dec. 5 and run through new year’s day.”
The alternate activities include a thorough decoration of the downtown district. Lee said float designers will be encouraged to devote their time and expertise to spruce up parks and public spaces. Also, a Christmas Card Lane concept will be recreated, running through the Historic Village. Prizes based on decorating will be awarded, Lee said.
In addition, the committee has discussed luminaries and would be willing to support neighborhoods or organizations willing to take on the task, he continued.
Council member Tim Frisbie said he understood the reasons why the parade is canceled but struggled to come to terms with its absence. Nonetheless, Frisbie said he supports the work of Lee and the committee.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who say, ‘It’s my choice to go downtown if I want, not a bureaucrat telling me I can’t go downtown and socialize with friends and family,” Frisbie said. “I understand from a village prospective but from a personal prospective, I don’t buy into it … if you’re afraid of a crowd, don’t come.”
Council member Gail Reisterer said the village has an obligation to responsibility. She said a parade would inevitably draw a large crowd and the village should not be behind an event that will encourage a large assembly.
Fellow council member Julie Merrill said she lives downtown and will miss the parade. Still, for the public’s safety, canceling the parade was a prudent course of action, she noted.
“We’ll just disperse and have fun in different ways,” Merrill said.
The council was unanimous in acknowledging Lee and the committee for their dedication to planning what they have arranged for Christmas 2020 in Vicksburg.
In other business, the status of a three-year contract renewal with the company managing Angel’s Crossing Golf Course was discussed as an agenda item. Village manager Jim Mallery said municipal officials and Hudsonville-based Renaissance Golf Management Group entered into a management agreement in March 2018.
He commended Renaissance’s Tom Ham and the staff, saying their work has exceeded expectations. Mallery said the years before the management agreement were marred by public complaints related to the conditions of the course, staff inattention and the concern about taxpayer dollars used to support the course.
“I’m happy to report that the village of Vicksburg has not used any general fund tax money to operate in any capacity Angel’s Crossing Golf Course since August 2016,” he said. “We developed and implemented a plan for the golf course, and have relentlessly reviewed the plan each of the past two years.”
He said Renaissance has not raised its management fees from the original proposal. Its fee for the three-year contract, however, will be $123,000 annually, representing a 6.9% increase from the original pact, Mallery said.
Mallery said the soonest the village could sell the golf course, if it felt the need to, is October 2023.
Also, Mallery said police chief Scott Sanderson in November will provide an update to the council regarding the department’s recent incorporation of patrol-car and body cameras.