A (Christmas) Tree Grows in Central Park

Vision 2025 is a community-driven, grassroots approach to revitalizing Johnstown’s natural and built environments, economic sectors, and civic engagement realms. As Vision progresses, many projects in the community will be brainstormed, initiated, and ultimately completed. One of these is the Christmas Tree @ Central Park, spearheaded by the Discover Downtown Partnership. Here to tell the story in her own words is Melissa Radovanic, president of the Partnership.

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The Tree @ Central Park has brought magic (and crowds!) back to Downtown Johnstown for the holiday season. (Photo by John Burley)

The journey of the Christmas Tree @ Central Park began in 2013 when I was elected president of the Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership. At that time, I told our board that I wanted us to be known for what we were doing in Downtown. A few months later in January 2014, we held a strategic planning session, a “no idea is a bad idea” meeting. A recurring theme was to enhance Christmas in Downtown Johnstown, but at the time we didn’t know exactly what that meant. A while later I had the opportunity to meet Jeff and Wendy Konicky, a local couple with a fantastic holiday light show at their home. They were generous and genuine. It was then that Discover Downtown really started to imagine the possibilities of what Christmas in Downtown could be.

I invited Jeff to a board meeting in the spring of 2014. He gave a wonderful presentation of what was a simply amazing animated and synchronized Christmas tree. Our board was sold, until Jeff told us the price. A tree of that size and capability would cost $100,000. The Partnership had never been a fundraising organization. We had some money that we accumulated over time, but nothing near what was needed for the 50 percent down payment. We certainly couldn’t fundraise for the first time to the tune of $100,000! We politely thanked Jeff and said goodbye.

Although in our minds the possibility of adding this tree to the park was spectacular, we also determined that the possibility was too risky, and we passed. And so did some time until we were back at it again, same people, same vision. By this time, it was February 2015 and we were strongly considering taking the largest leap of faith in our history. The tree manufacturer was offering a 25 percent discount on the tree if we ordered by the end of the month. The reduction in price from $100,000 to $75,000 was a bargain that we count not ignore. All 15 members of the Partnership took the leap together on February 18, paying 50 percent of the amount due up front, money that we did not have. At that point, there was no turning back!

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The beginning of fundraising was announced with a press conference in snowy Central Park .

Over the course of our nine months of fundraising and planning, we were met with an even share of encouragement and skepticism. The fundraising campaign was challenging. There were months when money flowed in, and months when nothing was raised. There were times that we were all quite nervous. For our board this vision was always real, but it was when the tractor-trailer arrived from Oregon on October 19 that we knew our vision had become a reality. It was a breathtaking moment.

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The tree’s metal base framework ready to be delivered to Central Park for assembly.

One of the relationships that formed out of the project was with Cambria Industrial Development. They agreed to let us set up and test the tree in October in one of their buildings. We spent plenty of cold days in that mill working on set up and testing until it was time to move out on November 9. Our relationship with CID was a home run for this project. In addition to storing the tree, they helped us to disassemble, move to the park, and reassemble at the fountain. It may sound easy in writing, but I know we could not have done it without the resources that they provided.

 

In addition to CID, JWF Industries came through in a pinch to help build a platform for the tree. This was not part of our original plan, but in less than a week, the workers at JWF made a beautiful and reliable platform.

It goes without saying that working with the City of Johnstown was paramount. They were helpful, grateful, and excited to be a part of this project. The founding sponsors – including Crown American Associates, the Frank & Sylvia Pasquerilla Foundation, and Conemaugh Health System – were extremely generous. Grants from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and the generosity of countless businesses and individuals brought out the best in what our community has to offer.

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The tree surrounded by the huge crowd that attended Light Up Night on November 20.

Throughout this project we faced obstacles that were large and small. The team effort was colossal. The help from City leadership was phenomenal. The support from the community was generous. Never doubt this community that we live in. Never doubt the power of a small group of people, and never say that something is not worth the risk. Every stressful moment, every doubt, and every frustration that occurred over the course of this project vanished on Light Up Night.

Throughout this holiday season, I encourage you to visit Downtown and enjoy the tree. We did this for all of you. Take pictures, post videos, have fun, and enjoy! I don’t think that anyone who came to Light Up Night will ever forget the first lighting of the Christmas Tree @ Central Park, when the vision became a reality – when the tree came alive!

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