GULFPORT -- Universal Concepts of Atlanta is installing a computerized holiday light show in Jones Park and Gulfport harbor that is expected to outshine any single display in the state of Mississippi this Christmas season.
The light show, in which a single bulb performs 1 billion functions, will be set to music. The show will have a nautical theme. Some of the displays in the show are huge, including a Neptune's Castle, and a working, lighted ferris wheel.
The show will light up the day after Thanksgiving and run through New Year's day. Admission will be $20 a car, but city officials expect the real money to come from visitors who spend at restaurants and hotels. Once the entrance fee is paid, visitors can stroll through the show, and enjoy planned entertainment and activities.
City officials believe the show will help extend the tourist season. Universal Concepts has created and installed light shows for Winterfest in the Smoky Mountains, Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier Islands in Georgia and Six Flags resorts.
"We're looking at this as the beginning of a winter festival," Council president Rusty Walker said. "We're creating a new season."
Universal Concepts owner Greg Fulwood said merchants in resorts with light shows generally follow suit and light up their buildings, too, drawing even bigger crowds.
The city is helping put merchants in the holiday spirit. Universal will install 4.5-foot lighted wreaths on poles downtown, with 5.5-foot wreaths on light poles that sit in medians. The 265 wreaths are already stacked in a Gulfport warehouse the city owns.
Universal was setting up steel frames Tuesday morning in Jones Park for a grove of lighted Christmas trees. The tallest of 19 trees will stand 58 feet. Lights have already been strung in Live oaks and on buildings throughout Gulfport's harbor.
Displays and lights will extend front to back in the harbor and from one side to the other of Jones Park.
Fulwood said he has a few surprises up his sleeve, too.
"The sequenced light show, I think, might be one of the biggest in the country," he said.
Island View Casino Resort is donating $2.5 million to start the show and sustain it for five years.
The idea to amp up Gulfport's harbor south of downtown started a couple of years ago when Walker met Fulwood at Christmas Expo in Biloxi.
Walker programs and sets up a dancing light show on his Bayou View lawn, which draws a crowd every holiday season. Unfortunately, family obligations will prevent him from putting up the display this year.
No worries, though, he's excited about the dazzling light show he'll soon see in the harbor, where he checks in regularly. He had hoped the show would be installed for 2014, but there just wasn't time.
Universal Concepts is bringing in a programmer from Los Angeles to set up all the computer equipment for the show. He's already programmed the lights.
"This is big time," said Fulwood, who is working in the harbor this week with several employees and local residents hired to help install the displays. "This is real big time."