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TBID votes to loan lights used at last year’s (now canceled) IlluminOcean display to the Harbor. Photo: Andrea Swayne

By Andrea Swayne

At its Oct. 21 meeting, the Tourism Business Improvement District board—general managers of the city’s four largest hotels—voted to loan the lights used last year at their IlluminOcean, ocean-themed lighting display at Dana Point Harbor to the county along with $25,000 for a display this holiday season.

The TBID canceled this year’s event in August.

At the meeting, local businessmen Mike Powers (Greenfield Communications Inc.) and Michael Fox (FoxLin Architects) pitched an idea (and concept design by Fox) on behalf of the Lantern District Alliance for an ocean-themed lighting display for this year that would connect the Lantern District, through Heritage Park, to the Harbor.

“The city seemed to shut down that idea pretty quickly but the TBID members seemed pretty receptive, so we are going to concentrate on the Harbor for now.” Powers said. “Jim Samuels recommended we meet with Brad Gross about how we can do that kind of design for the county. We will also reach out to the organizations that have previously offered support and ask them to each sponsor an individual display, rather than the whole thing. The more we can get to sponsor a display the more the project will grow and hopefully continue to grow in coming years.”

Jim Samuels, general manager of the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, made the motion to offer the lights to the harbor (county) plus the $25,000. The board agreed.

Following the TBID’s August announcement that it was canceling IlluminOcean, the city was considering litigation against the company hired to produce the show due to dissatisfaction with the quality of the displays provided and careless storage, which reportedly would have cost in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $600,000 to repair and upgrade in order for the show to go on this year. The TBID reportedly spent $1 million for last year’s show, originally billed as an ongoing event.

The decision was met with protest from area businesses and residents. Attracting an estimated 250,000 visitors to the Harbor during its 40-night run, the light show was a boon to area businesses, whose owners were angered by statements made by a TBID representative’s statements to the effect that the cancelation also had to do with the belief that it was not benefiting their hotels directly by selling rooms.

The TBID was created in 2009 when City Council voted it into existence as a public/private partnership with the city’s four largest hotels—Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Doheny Beach—as a means to collect a $3-per-night, self-assessed fee from hotel customers to be used for promoting Dana Point as a destination.

Jim Miller, owner of The Coffee Importers, head of the Harbor Merchants Association and a vocal opponent of the IlluminOcean cancelation, applauded the TBID’s offer to loan the lights and chip in $25,000 for a display this year. Miller said he will be spending $14,000 this year for lighting at his business’ outdoor dockside dining areas and surrounding Harbor walkways.

“I believe that, after last year’s IlluminOcean, people will be coming to Dana Point this year looking for lights and I don’t want them to be disappointed,” Miller said. “I believe that, even though it’s only been a year, it’s really an important part of the holidays in Dana Point and I appreciate what the TBID is doing.”

Although Brad Gross, OC Dana Point Harbor director, had not been contacted by the TBID regarding the offer, he said on Thursday that the Harbor is not interested in accepting it.

“From what I understand the TBID last year invested close to $1 million to bring IlluminOcean to the Harbor,” Gross said. “I also understand they decided not to recreate IlluminOcean because the contractor they hired allegedly stored the lights and displays in a fashion rendering them unusable for future use. The Harbor Department is not interested in receiving a tangled ball of used lights with the expectation of recreating a $1 million display.”

According to Gross, the Harbor Department will instead be working with operators and the Harbor Merchant’s Association and installing new lights, as had been customary in years past—before last year’s IlluminOcean debut—in addition to its other holiday traditions such as Holiday in the Harbor (Dec. 4) and the Boat Parade of Lights (Dec. 11, 12, 18 and 19).

“We will create a modest-in-comparison display, but still spectacular and enhanced compared to the displays we have done in the past,” Gross said. “If the TBID or the city of Dana Point would like to recreate IlluminOcean in the Harbor similar last year’s display, the county would welcome them and once again issue no-fee permits.

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  • I would like to suggest that volunteers are recruited to untangle the lights. I would be happy to do it and put the invitation out to all my Facebook friends. There are plenty of Boy Scout groups and the like that would be happy to help.

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