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2021 Award of Merit: Wilson

Electric Light Fantasy-A Holiday Laser & Music Extravaganza

2021 NC Main Street Award: Promotion

Best Downtown Special Event or Event Series

  • Wilson Downtown Development Corporation

  • Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

With the pandemic continuing in the summer of 2020, Wilson Downtown Development staff realized that traditional holiday events, including a parade, carnival rides, holiday wagon rides, and ice-skating would probably not take place, the community should still have a way to celebrate the season. The event needed to be COVID safe; draw a regional audience to Historic Downtown Wilson; serve, ideally, as a fundraiser for both the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum and the Wilson Downtown Development nonprofits; and be a celebratory holiday event people could enjoy without worrying about personal safety. The Wilson Downtown Development Corporation wanted to build on its brand, differentiate Wilson from other communities, attract new visitors with unique offerings, get cash registers ringing, and create an emotional connection to its downtown.

The result was an electrifying laser light show synchronized to holiday music, with a backdrop of towering whirligigs. Attendees purchased tickets to view the show from their vehicles and use their radios to hear the music. The event was so successful that it was extended from sixteen shows over four nights, to twenty shows over five nights, plus an evening for the sponsors.

An undeveloped lot adjacent to the Whirligig Park served as vehicle parking for viewing the light show. A separate entrance and exit allowed traffic to flow quickly and easily. A digital, touch-free ticketing system was set up through the Wilson Times newspaper. The system collected demographic and geographic data from ticket purchasers, allowed for preselling of a souvenir cup and refreshments, and promoted shopping and dining opportunities in downtown available before and after a purchaser’s selected timeslot. A new digital QR code-based marketing system was launched during the event to provide attendees with an easily accessible directory of the downtown shops, restaurants, galleries, brewery, and taprooms that were participating.

The new event supports Wilson’s downtown brand as a place of innovation. COVID restrictions allowed the downtown organization the opportunity to evaluate its traditional events and create something that attendees could not get anywhere else in eastern North Carolina.

Electric Light Fantasy attracted 6,000 attendees, generated $30,000 in retail sales to local businesses, raised $25,000 in profits, and garnered almost 110,000 social media “Likes.”

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