Fair says: Holiday light show could be ‘huge’ for Altamont next year and for years to come

— Photo from Altamont Fair

Picture snow where the grass is and reindeer where the benches are: Amy Anderson, manager of the Altamont Fair, says the fairgrounds’ Dutch barn will become “Santa’s village” during the six weeks next year when the Albany Police Athletic League has its holiday light show there.

ALTAMONT — The announcement that Capital Holiday Lights — a popular Christmas time fundraiser for the Albany Police Athletic League — is slated for the Altamont fairgrounds next year has stirred interest in the village.

Amy Anderson, manager for the Altamont Fair, told The Enterprise on Friday that excitement in the village over the announcement was palpable as she was stopped and asked, “Is this for real? Is this for real?”

“The mayor said this could be huge,” said Anderson of Kerry Dineen.

“It’s a great addition to extend our year and bring more people into the village,” said Anderson, adding, “December and January are kind of dead.”

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 have visited the display over the years.

The league on Thursday 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.

No show will be presented this year; rather, a video of past shows will be available online at www.PALlights.com, running from Nov. 25 to Jan. 2.

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

Asked about traffic concerns, Anderson 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.

The Altamont Fair in 2009 hosted a country music festival, Country Fest, that attracted 30,000 people in a single day. At the time, a traffic study was done, Anderson said, which showed the best way to keep traffic from backing up on Main Street in Altamont was for the fair to open two lanes for incoming traffic on the entry road it owns, Arlington Street.

Anderson also said that the Police Athletic League, during the pandemic, had visitors sign up for time slots to keep the flow of traffic even and may continue that practice in Altamont.

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 is to open the parking lot behind the fair’s Circus Museum so visitors can go into the museum for hot cocoa and other treats. “It will be all decked out for Christmas,” said Anderson.

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

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

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

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

Anderson said that Leonard Ricchiuti, a retired police sergeant who directs the league, is interested in a long-term partnership with the Altamont Fair.

“We’re pretty good at that,” said Anderson, noting that the Scottish Games and the Old Songs Festival have each held weekend-long events annually at the fairgrounds for over a quarter of a century.

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

She envisions someday incorporating Altamont’s long-running Victorian Holiday celebration, sponsored by the not-for-profit Altamont Community Tradition, with the winter events at the fairgrounds.

“We are very excited,” Anderson said. “It’s a great addition to extend our year.”

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