With the world turned upside-down by COVID-19, Ryan Duques, chairman of Madison’s Economic Development Commission, is worried about the added challenge of the darker months.
That’s why this winter, the EDC is looking not only to draw folks to town, but also to cheer up the community through an initiative called “Light Up Madison,” Duques said.
The commission set aside $7,000 to hire a business to implement a plan that will accomplish that goal, Duques said.
“The Madison Economic Development Commission wishes to brighten the spirits of residents, visitors and to provide a draw to town during the holiday season and early winter months,” a request for proposals posted Tuesday to the town’s website says.
“To add to Madison's vibrancy and to brighten the spirits of residents and visitors during this challenging year, the Economic Development Commission would like to create a Spectacle and to light up Madison.”
The “spectacle” must be possible, the RFP notes, regardless of COVID-19 restrictions.
But beyond general guidelines, the application is fairly open-ended.
The EDC is keeping its fingers crossed that it will receive creative proposals that will enhance Madison during the darker days of the year, Duques said, adding that the town already has other great holiday displays.
State Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, thanked the EDC for its “early holiday gift” in a written statement.
“Light up Madison seems like a perfect way to help lift the spirits of our community during ... a challenging time for everyone, especially our small businesses,” she said. “Downtown Madison will definitely be the place to go this season.”
John-Michael Parker, a Madison Democrat who is running against Kokoruda for the 101st District seat, also praised the initiative.
“I applaud the EDC for finding creative ways to drive economic development during a challenging time, while also helping bring some holiday cheer and vibrancy to our beautiful town,” Parker said. “I look forward to enjoying this spectacle, and am grateful that all residents (and visitors) will be able to do so safely.”
The idea developed after John Mathers, general manager of the Madison Beach Hotel and president-elect of the Board of Directors for the Madison Chamber of Commerce, which is coordinating the effort, asked what the town might do to raise spirits this season, Duques said.
As Duques put it, the commission began exploring a question: “What are the small things that we can do to add that, you know, sense of brightness, or to add that sense of hope, to kind of lighten up the day for ourselves and for our neighbors and for our community?”
“Our goal is to have an event that will be inspiring for our community and drive business to our merchants,” Mathers said in an email. “We aim to provide a reminder to our residents and visitors of how much Madison has to offer.”
While the proposal itself should create a “foundational” plan for downtown, Duques said, he hopes Madison’s businesses will separately volunteer to supplement the initiative in their own ways, such as through storefront displays.
“It’s been a really rough year, I think, for all of us – psychologically, emotionally, financially,” Duques said. “After the year that we’ve had, we don’t need any more darkness – we need light.”
Meanwhile, the Chamber is considering creating an award for best display among participating businesses, according to Director Eileen Banisch.
“This year we need it [Light Up Madison] more than ever,” said Banisch.
And “to complement what the EDC is proposing with the additional lighting downtown, we are kind of ramping up for the season…adding some activities and events to keep people local,” Banisch said.
One of those activities is a holiday market, which will give artisan vendors a chance to sell their products from pop-up stations on downtown sidewalks, Banisch said, noting that the events would take place over four Saturdays, from late November to Christmas.
She hopes the market will help replace the income those vendors might lose if indoor church fairs cannot go forward due to COVID-19, she said.
The Chamber is also reconfiguring town holiday events so that they account for COVID-19 restrictions, according to Banisch, who said she is in touch with a couple of civic organizations about holding a gingerbread house display outdoors.
Normally, the library has a display, Banisch said, but she is not sure it will be able to this year due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, she’s curious to see what comes out of the “Light up Madison” RFP, she said.
Proposals are due by Sept. 30 and may be submitted to Town Planner Dave Madison at email@example.com, per the RFP.
The EDC is also inviting residents, businesses and organizations to reach out if they’d like to contribute to the effort financially, Duques said.