City council backs local retailer’s bright idea

City council backs local retailer’s bright idea

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

David Martin’s quest to keep King Street’s trees lit up for an extra few months is a success story.

Owner of the custom jewelry shop Goldworks, Martin has long campaigned to keep the holiday lights blazing year-round. Though the measure usually gets discarded during budget talks, his ally on city council, Del Pepper, successfully convinced her colleagues to split the difference last year.

The terms of the deal were simple: City Hall would keep the holiday lights on three months longer if local businesses picked up half the tab — $6,750.

Since then, Martin’s been petitioning fellow retailers and potential benefactors — “twisting arms” if you ask Pepper — to come up with the money. Keeping the lights on — which normally start in November and go dark in March — until early summer spurs economic activity, Martin said when he launched his fundraising effort during the summer.

“If [King Street] is dark and dismal, it’s not very favorable to tourists,” Martin said at the time. “It’s not safe, it doesn’t feel safe, it doesn’t look safe and it doesn’t look like the city is trying to sell itself.”

City officials recognized Martin’s achievement Saturday, voting 6-0-1 to keep the lights blazing until June 30. Mayor Bill Euille lauded Martin’s efforts, holding the artisan up as an example to others.

“You’re a good example of what government, local government, is all about and public-private partnerships are all about,” Euille said. “Government can’t do everything for everyone all the time, and we certainly have had our financial challenges over the past several years. And things like lighting the King Street corridor during the holiday season is certainly something nice to do — it’s even a priority to do, as it’s part of economic development — and yet when we have to look at the budget … [these] are very sensitive balances that we have to deal with.”

Despite the mayor’s glowing words, not everyone on city council agreed with the decision. Though City Councilor Paul Smedberg didn’t speak out about the initiative — he quietly abstained from the vote — he later questioned the cost. It’s not an issue of aesthetics, Smedberg said, but much-needed taxpayer dollars.

“Albeit, it’s not that much money, but I think when we’re looking to make strategic decisions about the budget — in terms of economic development, education, public safety and other areas — all the dollars add up,” he said. “Putting lights on a tree is not economic development to me.”

Smedberg explained his abstention by saying he’s not adamantly opposed to the project. But the money could be better spent, he said.

“I would rather spend that on improvements on King Street, which some of the merchants … say they want,” Smedberg said. “I don’t object to them going up during the holiday season or [staying up] a little longer after the new year, but putting them up three quarters of the year — I just don’t see how that helps.”