POSTED ON NOVEMBER 30, 2011:
Downtown Winter Wonderland
Pop-up shops, Winterfest and Glow 2011 draw Tulsans downtown to shop and play this winter
Through December, downtown will be dressed in its holiday best. Glowing lights and blue snowflakes dot the avenues, while new, temporary shops drip with holiday decorations and gifts in big picture windows.
Yes Virginia, there is a downtown. Though Tulsa's department stores have been shut down for decades -- and in some cases vacant for years -- the city's boosters are making sure downtown isn't overlooked by holiday shoppers this year.
A flurry of complementary events are kicking off throughout December, including Deco District Holiday Pop-Up Shopping, Performing Arts Center events, ice skating and the downtown Christmas tree at BOk Center's Winterfest, the annual Holiday Parade of Lights, not to mention a second-year program to help Tulsans easily track and locate all wintry downtown events, called Glow 2011.
Since 2008, Arvest Winterfest has been a big hit for downtown Tulsa. The allure of a romantic city evening spent ice skating under the lit Tulsa skyline, listening to live music and admiring Oklahoma's tallest Christmas tree drew about 121,000 visitors last year.
Arvest has been Winterfest's presenting sponsor since 2008, while former Mayor Kathy Taylor's foundation, the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, "came on as a supporting sponsor" last year, according to Jeff Nickler, BOK Center's special events manager.
These two sponsors have signed on through 2012 to help keep costs for the 38-day event affordable. Winterfest kicked off on Nov. 25 and lasts through Jan. 2.
The multi-year agreement will help pay a portion of the "massive operating costs associated with the festival," according to a BOK Center press release. The sponsorships provide for complimentary skating vouchers for at-risk youth, non-profits and charity groups along with charity nights that will include half-price skating and discounted ride tickets for the public.
This year's Winterfest is bigger than ever, and will feature four new amusement park rides in addition to outdoor ice skating, a warming tent with tasty seasonal treats, photo-ops with "Segway Santa," plus horse and carriage rides and free holiday entertainment on an outdoor stage.
The frozen 60 feet by 150 feet ice rink will be open daily on 3rd St. between Denver and Frisco Aves. Rink admission prices are: $8 per person, $5 for adults who bring their own skates, and $5 for children three and under.
Old-fashioned horse and carriage rides will take visitors on romantic trips through downtown from 6-9pm daily. For a 15-minute ride, cost is $10 per adult and $5 for children 12 and under (cash only). From Monday through Wednesday, the price is reduced to $20 for a family of four.
The four amusement park ride offerings include a Ferris wheel, carousel, Windjammer and Gravitron. The ONEOK Outdoor Stage will feature live entertainment from 4-7pm.
Overlooking the ice rink is Oklahoma's tallest Christmas tree. Standing 44-feet-tall, the Christmas tree will glow each night with more than 35,700 lights illuminating its 109,534 evergreen tips.
Tulsa's month-long winter party has succeeded in creating excitement about downtown, at least through the cold weather months. Now, downtown activists are trying to funnel some of that positive energy into revitalization efforts.
Ready to Glow
Glow 2011 was imagined as a way to connect Winterfest-goers with the rest of downtown Tulsa.
"Glow started last year," said Nickler. "It was originally a vision of former Mayor Kathy Taylor and her daughter Elizabeth Ellison," he said, as a way to "make sure the energy and excitement" of Winterfest carried over to the rest of downtown.
The purpose of Glow is to raise awareness about what's going on downtown through a new one-stop calendar at glowtulsa.com. "This has been a grassroots effort," Nickler said. "We knew people were coming downtown to ice skate but, we wanted them to stay downtown to drink, eat, do some other things."
The site features updated events listings -- on everything from hotel and restaurant deals to hockey and basketball games -- unique to the downtown area.
Other upcoming events in downtown Tulsa include Tulsa Project Theater's production of Seussical the Musical, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center annual productions of the Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol and Oilers hockey games.
On Dec. 10, a Jingle Bell Run and one-day Holiday Market (held in BOK Center's Grand Lobby from noon-7pm) on the same day as the annual downtown Holiday Parade of Lights.
To light the way from the BOK Center to other parts of downtown, the Glow organization has encouraged business owners to hang lights and put out decorations. They also held a window painting competition last year.
Top of the Pop-Ups
Another way downtown boosters are capitalizing on the holiday cheer emanating off Winterfest like heat waves is through Pop Up Shopping 2011.
The phenomenon of "pop-up shopping" has become popular around the world since about 2006. In Tulsa, seasonal pop-up Halloween stores are the most recent examples of this kind of temporary shopping.
The brainchild of Eloté co-owner Libby Auld, the new Pop Up Shopping 2011 -- a new month-long shopping event -- has brought empty retail space in the Thompson and Philcade Buildings to life once again.
The intent of pop-up shopping is partly for "people to become aware that we have great retail down here," said Delise Tomlinson, Tulsa Metro Chamber's executive director of downtown development. By the same token, the shopping event will also acquaint retailers with the ins and outs of doing business downtown.
Ten temporary shops -- all retailers with existing shops in other locations -- will be open through Dec. 30. The shops include: Bedlam Sports, Indie Emporium, Earthful Delights, Theragenics, Mecca, Books Are Fun, Odds & Ends, the Candy Castle, Topeca and a toy store associated with the Tulsa Zoo.
After the event is over, Tomlinson said, they anticipate maybe "one or two (retailers) will stick around somewhere downtown, but also it will show other retailers that there is something to this."
By "this," Tomlinson means the sense of excitement building downtown T-Town lately.
The temporary retail district will expand lunch hour shopping options for downtown workers, as well as added holiday exposure for up-and-coming artisans and artists and small business owners.
Pop-up shops will generally be open from 10am-7pm Monday through Friday, and from noon-8pm on Saturdays.
To boost mid-week sales, the lovingly titled "Deco District" between 5th and 6th Sts. along Boston Ave., is hosting Winter Wednesdays. Each Wednesday evening in December will feature cider stations, carolers, visits from Santa and other holiday festivities.
For decades, our downtown core has felt more like Tulsa's broken heart, vacant and repudiated, rather than a thriving center. But each winter, through small steps like a temporary shopping district or an online events calendar or LED snowflakes, Tulsa's flagging downtown gets a little boost, a little holiday cheer, a little more hope that someday, revitalization will flourish year-round.
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