Holiday decorations start going up in downtown Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — City officials on Wednesday will set up this year's Christmas tree at the center of downtown Champaign while business leaders look forward to decorating the area as the holiday shopping season begins.

Public works crews will begin building the tree at One Main Plaza near the intersection of Neil and Main streets and hope to have the job done by the end of the day, said T.J. Blakeman, executive director of the Champaign Center Partnership and a city planner.

On Saturday, volunteers will wrap about 100 light poles with garland, Blakeman said.

He said he is calling it "decorate the districts" day, and workers will try to get more decorations up in the city's "midtown" area along First Street this year.

"Saturday is our big day that we're still looking for volunteers for," he said.

Anyone who wants to help should meet at 34 E. Main St. at 11 a.m., Blakeman said. They should dress appropriately for the weather, bring a pair of light work gloves and plan on being there until about 3 p.m. Volunteers will be given a gift certificate for their trouble.

Officials are putting more focus on districts outside downtown Champaign this year, Blakeman said. Champaign Center Partnership is a business group representing three commercial areas: downtown, "midtown" along First Street and Campustown.

One of the changes this year is that "Shop Local Saturday" meant to promote sales at locally owned businesses will be held every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year, only one Saturday was organized as a shop-local day, and it was the same day as the Parade of Lights.

"The problem with that was so much attention was focused on downtown, we wanted to make sure that other districts got the same amount," Blakeman said.

The Parade of Lights on Nov. 24 will look about the same this year as it did last year, Blakeman said. The route through downtown Champaign will be the same.

Officials are hoping for one change, though.

"We'll be hoping for better weather than last year," Blakeman said. "But it was a great turnout last year."

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