Capital Holiday Lights won’t shine at the Altamont fairgrounds this year

— Photo from

The high ceilings of the historic Fine Arts and Flowers Building on the Altamont fairgrounds would make it challenging to heat for holiday vendors.

ALTAMONT — Plans to have the Altamont fairgrounds host the popular Capital Holiday Lights display this year have fallen through.

“If we start working now, we might be able to get it together for next year,” said Jonathan Phillips, an Altamont resident who says he worked on contract negotiations for the Albany Police Athletic League as “a foot soldier.”

Last October, the league announced an informal agreement with Albany County and the Altamont Fair to present the show in November 2023 at the fairgrounds. Proceeds from the annual event support PAL programs for local youth.

“It’s a great addition to extend our year and bring more people into the village,” said Amy Anderson, the fair’s director, at the time. She added, “December and January are kind of dead.”

Anderson did not immediately return calls before press time. Pat Canaday, who serves as a spokeswoman for the fair, said on Friday that the fair had no comment at this time.

“On average, the Capital Holiday Lights show would raise about $200,000 for our children’s programming,” Leanne Ricchiuti emailed in response to Enterprise questions asked of Leonard Ricchiuti, a retired police sergeant who directs the Police Athletic League. Leanne is Leonard’s cousin, she said, and handles publicity for PAL.

PAL’s nonprofit programming, she said, is funded primarily through fundraising events and donations.

“PAL engages with about 2,000 children annually …,” she said on Wednesday. “We get our kids involved in our after-school clubs, mentoring, Police Explorers Program, lacrosse, track events, field trips, and so much more.”

The drive-through light show, which had been held since 1997 in Albany’s Washington Park, was unpopular with nearby residents who disliked the weeks of traffic. Organizers estimated more than two million people had visited the display over the years.

In negotiations with PAL, Anderson said last October, she had insisted that local venues like restaurants be advertised, and she envisioned people coming to see the light show stopping before or after for pizza or a full sit-down meal.

Asked about traffic concerns, Anderson had said she was told that, in good years, the show in Washington Park got 20,000 visitors over a six-week period; in slow years, about 10,000 people came over six weeks.

The fairgrounds, located in the village of Altamont, gets its heaviest use once a year for a week in August for the tri-county Altamont Fair but has hosted other events throughout the year, including a drive-through Halloween display and a drive-through dinosaur display.

The village has a population of about 1,700.

A Christmas light show was held at the fairgrounds for the 1995-96 holiday season but did not do well and was not repeated. Anderson said she was told the fair couldn’t get enough people to staff the event.

The plan for the 2023 light show was to open the parking lot behind the fair’s Circus Museum so visitors could go into the museum for hot cocoa and other treats. “It will be all decked out for Christmas,” said Anderson last October.

A Christmas market, with vendors selling crafts, was to be set up in the 1890s Building, she said.

Visitors were to leave through Gate 3 where a “Santa’s village” with reindeer and Santa Claus was to be set up in the Dutch barn, Anderson said.

Last October, Anderson said that the fair had much work to do in the next year. Without naming the amount the fair was to be paid by PAL, Anderson had said, “If we have to invest $100,000, we won’t recoup that in the first year.”

The Police Athletic League wanted the fairgrounds to have two winterized bathrooms and power in places that didn’t have power, she said. “We need to figure out septic and water. We’re not a year-round facility,” said Anderson, adding that she was hoping to get grants.

Anderson had said that Leonard Ricchiuti was interested in a long-term partnership with the Altamont Fair.

If things go well, Anderson said last October, Ricchiuti envisioned using the fairgrounds for more than just the light show, expanding to host winter festivals. Anderson told him the village had asked for an ice-skating rink and he thought that was a possibility.

Phillips, who owns hardware stores in Delmar and in Altamont, said he is active in both the Bethlehem and Guilderland chambers of commerce and has served on the PAL board for 20 years.

PAL sponsors after-school programs for Albany youth and, Phillips said, provides 60,000 meals for Albany schools. The league fills a real need, he said, in neighborhoods where youth may have parents working at night or may live with a grandparent.

“I was in charge of getting terms communicated to the fair and getting a contract signed,” he told The Enterprise on Friday. “I failed.”

PAL, he said, was wary of a five-year contract with no out, risking money needed for kids’ programs.

“In its heyday, it made a lot of money,” he said of the light show. “It’s a high risk coming out to Altamont,” he said, noting that The Crossings Park of Colonie had originally been considered when the display could no longer be set up in Washington Park.

“I suggested a five-year contract with a one-year out. The fair agreed,” Phillips said, but other sticking points remained. “We couldn’t work out all the terms to make it work.”

For example, vendors needed heated space and, while the fair got its bathrooms heated, the arts building with its high ceiling would be a challenge to heat, Phillips said.

“As of this week, there’s no way it’s happening,” said Phillips on Friday. “Our vendors booked other holiday venues. We have only 10 to 15 percent of our vendors left. Same thing with our sponsors.”

He also said that, at this point, it would have been hard to find 12 full-time employees to staff the light show. “September is too late,” he said.

Asked what went wrong in negotiating the contract with the Altamont Fair, Leanne Ricchiuti responded on Wednesday, “There are many elements to putting on a show like the Holiday Lights. And with so much to consider and coordinate, it took a little longer to iron out all the details and come up with every contingency of operation. The plans were changed too late to make the show work for this year at the Altamont Fairgrounds.”

She said she would put out a press release later in the day. The release said, “Despite our best efforts, there were numerous issues that needed to be addressed and could not be rushed, such as winterization of restrooms, heating structures that previously didn’t have heating capabilities, and determining the best route for the show that incorporates both of those things, and addresses electrical infrastructure. Additionally, because of our extended planning phase, many of our annually committed vendors and sponsors have needed to make other commitments for this holiday season.”

Last year, since there was no light show, a video of past shows was available online. Asked if that would be done again this year, Phillips said it was too soon to know what plans might be made now.

“I don’t think we have a recovery plan,” he said. Perhaps some light displays could be set up at satellite businesses, he speculated.

Phillips held out hope, though, that the Altamont Fair board could work with the PAL board to bring the light show to Altamont for the 2024 holiday season.

Similarly, Leanne Ricchiuti said, “Anything is possible, but PAL will do everything it can to host a Holiday Lights show in 2024 … This year, our focus will be serving our kids, and continuing to plan for our impending show next year. There’s still a lot of work to do, and our goal is to make the show something our supporters will love, and what the Capital Region expects.”

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