O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree! Where will thee be in UP?
This year, the question is settled: University Place will light a 20-foot holiday tree that stands on a 1950 vintage farm truck. The community will gather Saturday to celebrate its first tree-lighting ceremony held entirely on and around its public plaza.
But questions remain about the type of tree residents will gather around beyond this Christmas season, and the tree’s exact location during future holidays.
Ever since the city incorporated in 1995, it had decorated a live tree planted near the existing City Hall. Last year, officials began moving the festivities a few blocks to the city’s new plaza, known as Market Square. The plaza sits in front of the civic and library building, the centerpiece of the University Place Town Center development.
The plaza already features a chessboard, a fire pit and a duck sculpture, but it’s without a live Christmas tree.
Last year, the city invited community groups to decorate six five-foot-tall live trees that were lit at a ceremony in front of the civic building. But Mayor Ken Grassi said he received numerous complaints that people couldn’t see the lighting of the smaller trees because of the large crowd.
This time, the city will light a 20-foot tree cut from a Gig Harbor tree farm placed on a farm truck donated by Sterino Farms in Fife. It allows the city to elevate its tree without having to pay for a really large one.
This was the alternative plan officials developed after the City Council rejected Grassi’s original proposal to purchase an artificial tree in September. Grassi said an anonymous donor came forward with an offer to pay two-thirds of the cost of the 30-foot animated tree that the mayor characterized as a “little bit of Disney.” The lights on the tree blink on and off in time with holiday music.
“It would be a destination tree,” he said at that meeting.
The mayor brought his proposal to the council three days before a Sept. 20 deadline to order it. The city’s cost would have been $9,000.
He asked the council to suspend rules that require the proposal be discussed at a separate study session before being brought back for a vote.
Grassi’s request miffed Councilman Javier Figueroa. He was perturbed the council would consider putting a funding request for a Christmas tree on the fast track while not spending money on a flagpole in front of the civic building.
“That Christmas tree is symbolic at a very particular time, but our flag is symbolic all year round,” Figueroa said at the time.
That yearlong emotional debate ended last month when the City Council voted to commit $20,000 to the flagpole project.
In the end, Grassi’s proposal for the artificial tree didn’t garner a single vote.
On Oct. 1, the council did approve Grassi’s request for $3,000 for additional event funding, including buying candles for the parade and decorations in the civic building’s atrium.
The city contracted a private company, Silent Lights, to decorate the tree, light the civic building and the trees in Market Square and those lining the street in front of the civic building. The total cost is $3,600.
Grassi envisions the council will weigh at least three options as it prepares for next year’s tree-lighting event. He anticipated that discussion will occur by early summer to give city staff enough time to make arrangements.
City leaders could decide to bring back the farm truck, buy an artificial tree after all, or plant a live tree, he said.
In its recently adopted two-year budget, the city set aside $5,000 for the 2013 Christmas tree and $2,500 for the 2014 version.