ENID, Okla. — With Enid’s Christmastime event series set to begin next month, downtown business owners and city officials say they hope the expected turnout will translate into bigger business for the area.
Enid Regional Development Alliance, Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce and Enid Main Street organizations are working to rally downtown businesses and restaurants, as well as retailers across Enid, to stay open later. Restaurants are encouraged to provide reservations during November and December.
Nicole Winfield, project manager for The One, which is sponsoring the tree, said the event team expects 100,000 people — twice as much as Enid’s current population size — to make their way to Park Avenue between Grand and Independence to see the Christ Tree and enjoy all of the free events being held for 42 days around the 140-foot spectacle, which arrived last week.
Beginning on Enid Lights Up the Plains on Nov. 26 through Jan. 6, 2022, Christmas events such as services, concerts and movie showings are planned for every weekend, as well as throughout the week after the team received so many event requests, Winfield said.
She said Main Street Enid is expecting twice as many people to attend ELUP downtown for the first night of The One event series — hypothetically doubling the highest past attendance of 8,000 to 10,000 people.
“And that’s just on that one night,” she said Friday, Oct. 15. “I don’t doubt that we would be able to hit that 100,000. Our coverage is pretty big on our social media numbers,” referring to the Facebook page’s metrics by geographical area.
Kyle Williams, the main sponsor of the tree, wanted to make Enid a destination site with The One holiday event and its giant Christmas tree, Winfield said. Williams had other options in town to put the Christ Tree, but she said he wanted to do it in an area where the city would benefit from the expectedly massive number of visitors.
As the city’s densest and most focused center of retail businesses, downtown Enid would show people coming to see the tree that they have “everything they need,” Winfield said.
“This time of year is probably even a better time, because you’re looking for Christmas gifts and ideas,” she said. “This is a very inclusive event that we want everybody to attend everything. It’s not just for people who attend a certain church or organization.”
More chances down the road
Rob Houston, director of the city’s tourism and visitors bureau, Visit Enid, said his office also is hoping the 100,000 expected to come for The One’s events around the Christ Tree will transition to more hotel room nights in Enid.
Enid hotels had record-setting occupancy rates in June because of the Koch Fertilizer turnaround project, but rates have fallen in months since, said Houston, whose office receives monthly reports showing the overall occupancy rate for hotels in Enid.
Both Houston’s staff and the team organizing The One have been pushing for hopeful visitors to more specifically book stays at the recently opened Best Western Glō hotel, Houston said during an advisory board meeting for Visit Enid on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
“Like telling visitors, ‘You can see the tree from there if you’re on the right side,’” he said.
Visit Enid is also pushing back the release of the office’s annual visitors’ guide to February in order to include photos instead of just renderings of the One event and the Christ Tree.
Tree is under construction
When the tree arrived last week, only about the top third of the tree had branches on it. The rest of the tree is being “plugged” with limbs brought from the same forest as the tree.
The tree will be filled in with the limbs to resemble the Christmas trees everyone knows and has in their living rooms, said Don Rose, who’s organizing the engineering for The One.
Those limbs and the rest of the tree will be sprayed with protective fire retardant that’s been mixed with green dye and an adhesive substance to catch needles.
“It’s a Charlie Brown tree, right?” Rose said. “When we’re done, it’ll look like a filled-out tree.”
The tree had been marked for lumber harvesting in a privately owned forest before it was picked as the Christ Tree for The One. Rose said once the tree is removed in January — to be cut down in sections — most of it will be repurposed at a sawmill. The event team also will replant seedlings to replace the main tree.
“When you get them this tall, they just don’t have branches on them, so you give that up to get the height,” he said.
By Wednesday, Oct. 20, the tree was mostly filled in. The crew that filled in the branches will return in November to set the lights on the tree.
The city of Enid’s role in the project
The city of Enid has played a big part in setting up the event area for the tree display. The city constructed sidewalks on both sides of the road where the tree is located, installed bollards at the intersection and constructed the receiver well where the tree has been erected.
Some legal experts have questioned city expenditures for the display. The Freedom from Religion organization sent the city a letter citing constitutional concerns over the city’s using taxpayer funds to do repair work for the event as “a clear violation” of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which holds that public entities such as governments cannot endorse one religion over another.
In response to the concerns, the city commissioners approved making the 100 block of Park between Grand and Independence a public forum specifically intended for events to express rights guaranteed in the First Amendment such as free exercise of religion, speech and assembly.
The city also is applying for a Quality Events Incentive grant with the Oklahoma Tax Commission to reimburse some of the city’s expenses for the project from sales tax revenue made during the event, which runs Nov. 26-Jan. 6.