Catch the Holiday Spirit with the Parade of Lights on Saturday

December 14, 2011

By Teya Vitu

Tucson still has a small-town feel to it and nothing proves that more than the 17th Annual Downtown Parade of Lights, the homegrown electric showcase with lighted floats made by families, organizations, businesses, sports groups and car clubs.

It’s a Tucson twist on the holiday parade and it all starts at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 17.

This year will be a little more Tucson wintry than some prior Parades. It’s looking like a high of 53 and low of 37 that day with a 20 percent chance of rain.

“The parade is happening rain or shine,” said Brandi Haga, the event coordinator for the third year. “Bring a chair and blankets. Bring your thermos of hot cocoa. Bring your loved ones, friends and family.”

This year’s Parade of Lights rolls as the Downtown renaissance of the past few years really hits its stride. New to the streetscape this year is the new UniSource Energy headquarters just north of the parade route. UniSource is the parent company of Tucson Electric Power, the parade’s sponsor.

The Downtown Tucson Partnership encourages parade-goers come down early, even as early as the morning to get a sense of what all is new Downtown. The Children’s Museum and Southern Arizona Transportation Museum at The Historic Depot will welcome parade-goers all day long.

“You can make a whole day of it,” said Haga, who was watched the parade and Downtown evolve in her eight years with the Downtown Tucson Partnership. “Enjoy the renaissance. There’s places to shop and tons of restaurants.”

The Parade itself will have food vendors at Armory Park with hot chocolate and tasty treats.

The entire Parade route this year is south of Broadway in anticipation of the future Modern Streetcar.

Like always, the Parade starts at Stone Avenue and 17th Street and goes north on Stone. Then it turns right onto Ochoa Street. The route jogs onto Scott Avenue to get onto 12th Street on the north side of the Children’s Museum. The Parade has its home stretch on 6th Avenue in front of Armory Park.

“Armory Park is the best place to view the Parade,” Haga suggested. “The quality of the entries seems to get better every year. It’s not just lights on cars any more.”

The Parade has more than 60 entries representing pretty much every component of the community from the Accordion Club of Tucson, Naughton’s Plumbing and the North Pole Police to Valley of the Moon, Tucson Quarter Midget Association, Southern Arizona Beagle Rescue and Arizona Greyhound Rescue.

Tierra Antigua Realty Downtown moved into the Pioneer building a year ago just in time for last year’s Parade. Realtor Kent Simpson is pulling out the high-tech stops this year with a computer controlled LED light show depicting the Modern Streetcar and Downtown aboard a flatbed truck.

“In fact, I’m working on it as we speak,” Simpson said. “What we’re doing is celebrating the fact that the streetcar is coming Downtown. Being the geek I am, I wanted a reason to play with my computer control system.”

Tierra Antigua office manager Mary Lou Thompson remembers meeting the Parade entrants in front of and behind them last year in the staging area in the hours before the Parade.

“When we were in the Parade, it was like this huge community celebration that we didn’t know existed,” said Thompson, who lives in the Mercado District of Menlo Park. “Everybody was having such a good time. So many people showed up. We were blown away.”

This is definitely not a Parade where entrants just wave at the crowd. Float people and parade watchers are constantly calling out to each other.

“The Parade has this wonderful small town feel to it,” said Michael Keith, CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, which organizes the Parade of Lights. “The floats are all locally generated and you can feel the holiday enthusiasm and love in each entry. There really is nothing else like it in Tucson.”