116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Whenever anyone asks Brian Glick why he isn’t working on a big Christmas show this time of year, he replies: “I am doing a Christmas show.” And it’s really, really big.
Instead directing a lavish Revival Theatre production right now, all of downtown Cedar Rapids is his stage. It’s been that way since 2019 and this year, his vision is reaching into The District, encompassing Czech Village southwest and New Bohemia southeast.
The District already has flipped the switch on the multicolored lights wrapping the poles along Third Street SE in NewBo and 16th Avenue SW in Czech Village, casting a nostalgic glow with updated versions of the multicolored lights popular in Christmases past.
Some lights have begun to glow in downtown and Kingston Village. But the big reveal is expected to come with the lighting of the city tree in Greene Square. The tree is scheduled to be lighted at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 3, after family activities that start at 4 p.m.
“For me, decorating for the holidays is like putting on a show,” said Glick, 36, who lives in downtown Cedar Rapids. “It's like a big production and I can't wait for opening night when everything turns on, and just giving everyone a show — giving them something to see and to enjoy and to hear and to experience. ”
Known for his eye for design, and tired of complaining to friends about the hodgepodge holiday decorations downtown, in 2019 he decided to toss his Santa hat into the ring.
As in theater, where timing is everything, less than a week before the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance was going to put out a call for someone to revamp the decorations, Glick contacted the organization about doing just that. He met with Jesse Thoeming, the alliance’s downtown executive director, and got the job.
“We wanted to have somebody with a fresh set of eyes and some ideas — an expert in that space — help us really deliver on it,” Thoeming said.
Part of the Economic Alliance’s Community Development mission is to "implement strategic plans for … signature streets and beautification.“ And Glick has delivered the “wow factor” the alliance was dreaming of with a white-lights Christmas.
“It’s definitely one of our signature projects,” Thoeming said. The holiday decorations are joining the downtown farmers market and public art initiatives as the Economic Alliance’s endeavors that “get the most consistent, positive, energetic feedback,” he added.
Beginning with a budget of $60,000 in 2019, which included buying lights, wreaths, garlands, electrifying more light posts and paying other expenses, that budget has not quite doubled as they’ve “cranked up” the decorations a few notches each year, Thoeming noted.
The cheer has been spreading throughout the corporate and nonprofit sector as well, with UFG Insurance, Alliant Energy, Theatre Cedar Rapids, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and the Masonic Temple adding their own lights and holiday decor visible from the streets and sidewalks.
Glick has been able to extend his own reach as well. Instead of being a holiday contract worker for the Economic Alliance, he has worked his way into a part-time year-round gig as the streetscapes coordinator. He adds his touch to such seasonal endeavors as the downtown planters, and advises sprucing up other things when they start to “look a little rough,” he said, paying attention to “the little details that sometimes get forgotten.”
Glick starts planning the city displays in early summer. The lights started going up in October, wrapping 375 trees between Kingston Village on the west side of the Cedar River and the Med Quarter on the east. Supply chain snags have vexed this year’s efforts, delaying the delivery of a new 15-foot programmable Christmas tree for the Town Centre Plaza at Third Avenue and Third Street SE.
“It's an LED tree that can do patterns and change colors and do designs and all this animation, so it'll be a really cool ‘wow factor’ for downtown,” Glick said.
It joins the fun and funky wow power of the projections on the side of the Armstrong Building across the street. Those started about a year ago, using the building’s facade as a screen for music videos, events, PBS content and local entertainment. Thoeming is especially excited about showcasing local artists in the projections.
“It’s the original content in there that's really going to spark people's attention and create that wow factor,” he said. “When folks are down driving through and enjoying the holiday lights, they'll see that this December through the holidays, and it's going to be a big part of what we do in 2023,” Thoeming said.
The schedule will feature live events on Sunday, like football; a look-ahead calendar of community events on Monday; Statewide Tuesday Spotlight, utilizing a PBS subscription to show programming focusing on Iowa; then International Wednesday, plugging into cameras around the world “for half-hour peeks at what's going on in New York City or London or Nashville or Cape Town, South Africa,” Thoeming said; local artists on Thursdays; “Austin City Limits” on Fridays via PBS; and before too long, Selfie Saturday, where people can submit their selfies to be shown on the building, set to music.
Thoeming also is excited that The District contracted Glick this year to add more wow to NewBo and Czech Village.
“We're wrapping more poles than we ever have in the past,” said Monica Vernon, executive director for The District, which straddles the Cedar River. “The city has been really great working with us. I think it's also really energizing our whole district down here.”
About a dozen volunteers have joined District staff members, putting in more than 150 hours. The project will cost about $13,000, paid through The District’s Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District, Vernon said.
The flurry of activity has caught on with merchants, Vernon noted. When they saw the crews at work, they started adding their displays to the mix.
“Brian Glick gave us one heck of a great idea,” she said of his notion to embrace the nostalgia of using multicolored lights, but with an updated LED twist. He also advised her what to order.
“That’s what we love to see — that kind of collaboration,” Thoeming said. “The brightness is not just going to stop at Eighth Avenue this year, it's going to carry all the way to 16th (Avenue). It’s going to cross the Bridge of Lions, with the beautiful archways the city installed in the fall.
“I think folks are really, really going to appreciate the fact that it's not just going through the Med Q and down First Avenue. If you go through town, you can check out all the core districts in Cedar Rapids,” he said. “They're going to be pretty special this year.”
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