Central Arkansas’ newest holiday tradition combines commerce, community

By Adena White | Photos courtesy of Conway Area Chamber of Commerce

Located in Rogers Plaza, the inaugural Illuminate event featured a Ferris wheel, mini train rides for kids, an appearance from Santa Claus, live music from local musicians and a food truck offering hot chocolate and funnel cakes. Horse-drawn carriage rides by the Hot Springs Carriage Company returned for the second consecutive year and became part of Illuminate. More than 2,000 people gathered in Rogers Plaza at 6 p.m. on the opening night for the ceremonial tree lighting. The horse-and-carriage rides, Ferris wheel, mini train and concession truck remained downtown until New Year’s Day.

This year’s Illuminate will build upon last year’s event. The attractions from 2016 are returning and new attractions will include an additional carnival ride and snowman and gingerbread man “selfie pods.” The event will expand to Simon Park, the original host of the citywide tree lighting ceremony.

Ed Linck, chief operating officer at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, says Illuminate is a “multi-generational event” the Chamber hopes to grow year after year, thanks to the support of the business community.

“You saw people of all ages on the opening night of Illuminate. There were families with small children lined up to visit with Santa and ride the mini train, there were scores of couples riding the horse-drawn carriage and Ferris wheel and there were several groups of friends just hanging out and taking pictures.

“Any time an event of this magnitude takes place, a big price tag comes with it,” Linck says. “Fortunately, we have a great amount of support from the business community. These companies understand the importance of supporting small businesses, which are the backbone of our thriving downtown, and creating a sense of community for their own employees.”

Longtime downtown business owner Steve Strange and his wife, Claudia, are the honorary chairs for Illuminate. The event is presented by Conway Regional Health System, Arvest Bank, Petit Jean Meats, TriTechne and Miller Spectacular.

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