Harrison County

Harbor light show means Christmas year-round in Gulfport

Gulfport Christmas lights at Jones Park

Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival had a trial run on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.
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Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival had a trial run on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

GULFPORT -- The city's inaugural holidays lights extravaganza in Gulfport's harbor had 42,000 attendees and cleared $50,000 after operating expenses.

Leisure Services Director David D'Aquilla said more attractions -- and lights -- will be added for 2016. Every day is Christmas for him and harbor director George Manemann because of the preparation involved in South Mississippi's biggest electronic light display, the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival.

The city hopes to up attendance to at least 60,000 this year. The show will run from Nov. 26 through New Year's Day, which is a Sunday.

"We're just trying to get our ducks in a row to get everything ready," D'Aquilla said. "Christmas is now a year-round event for us."

D'Aquilla said the 2015 show brought in $225,000, with expenses of $150,000. The city takes in money from ticket sales, and percentages of food and souvenir vending sales.

He will ask the City Council on Tuesday to transfer the $50,000 in revenue from the general fund to an operations account that can be used for this year's show. The city hopes to build up the fund so it will cover operations and maintenance for the computerized light and sound show. The centerpiece is 19 tall Christmas tree frames decked with lights that dance to music. D'Aquilla said a new one-hour show is planned for 2016.

Light displays with aquatic themes stretch from one end of Jones Park to the other.

The displays, lights and equipment from Universal Concepts in Atlanta cost more than $1 million. Island View Casino Resort, sponsor of the light show, is providing $2.5 million over five years to cover display costs.

The City Council also will consider a contract Tuesday with Mississippi Delta Shows for the double Ferris wheel that offers an overhead view of the light displays, and two additional rides -- a carousel and kiddie ride called Sky Racer. D'Aquilla said the carousel is being added for visitors who don't like heights. Other contracts also are being negotiated. The festival offers entertainment, Santa and other special features.

D'Aquilla said the city's Leisure Services staff does a lot of the work, which lowers operating costs. Most other city departments, he said, also are involved in making the light show a success.

"It was very much a group effort," he said.