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Corning holiday lights dimmed amid cost increase, stagnant tax revenue

This holiday season, downtown Corning has a little less sparkle.

The Corning Gaffer District made the decision to light fewer trees along its main business corridor on Market Street this year, due to an increase in expenses for lighting.

“We have been working on the challenge with the lights for quite some time,” said Coleen Fabrizi, executive director of the Gaffer District. “Unfortunately, we’re in a situation as many downtowns are, where the cost of lights isn’t keeping up with revenue. We don’t have an increase in revenue with the BID tax to try and manage it quickly. So, we’re just trying to weigh all of our options.”

Fabrizi is referring to the Business Improvement District (BID) called the Corning Intown District Management Association (CIDMA). It is responsible for funding projects like the holiday lighting on Market Street. The BID also funds work to promote businesses and maintain a safe and clean downtown area.

Fabrizi also said that trying to relight all of the trees under a new federal law change, which requires the use of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, is "tremendously more expensive than an incandescent." The city went with its current stock of incandescent bulbs instead of investing in LED lighting for the season.

A federal mandate from the Department of Energy requiring LED lights replace incandescent lights went into effect this summer. According to the agency, LED holiday lights are safer, sturdier and more energy efficient than incandescent lights.

The most recent four-year cycle for the tree lighting project in Corning cost the BID $83,723 to date. This includes the cuts to the program made this year, but does not include tree pruning costs.

The lights in the trees that line Market Street are cut out every four years as part of the regular tree pruning cycle. Pruning will next occur in January 2024. The lights are taken to a recycling facility. In 2020, the last pruning cycle, 2,800 pounds of holiday lights were removed and discarded.

Holiday lights are wrapped around 148 honey locust trees on Market Street for a total of nearly 200,000 lights. However, this year, they are not all switched on at night. Instead, the BID lit up 52 of these trees downtown for a total of approximately 60,000 lights. The lights can be seen at night twinkling at all intersections, crosswalks and in Centerway Square. There are patches of darkness between the lit trees where the decision was made to keep the lights off on a span of up to six trees at a time.

“We’re trying to figure out a solution that is not only affordable, but sustainable,” said Fabrizi. “Whether that be for the season, that the lights are up, or for the program as a whole. Right now, the only thing that I can tell you with certainty is that we’re committed to doing everything that we can to come up with a solution that’s fiscally responsible and continues [a] beautiful ambiance of our downtown.”

Fabrizi said stagnant tax revenues generated by the BID are concerning for a long-term solution.

The BID receives approximately $230,000 in assessment revenues each year. This pays for enhancements, such as lighting, maintenance staff, garbage collection, snow removal and beautification programs in the city of Corning.

It is a public-private partnership made up of property owners, public officials and business owners in Corning. It is funded through a special tax assessment for those property owners within the BID footprint. That includes Market, Pulteney, Bridge and Wall streets, as well as Tioga Avenue and Denison Parkway.

Fabrizi said Corning Incorporated is the largest property owner in the city.

The next four-year cycle begins in October 2024. It is not clear what the BID will cover next year during the holiday tree-lighting program.