Life after Covid - reps mull options for Enchanted Winter Gardens 2021

COUNCILLORS are preparing to discuss plans for the Enchanted Winter Gardens event in the town this festive season, with a number of options on the table.

At the February 2020 Community Planning Committee the 2019 Enchanted Winter Garden event review and proposed arrangements for the 2020 event were agreed including a budget of £46,000 and admission fees of £5 per adult, £3 per child and £14 for a family of four with under twos free.

At the Committee in September 2020 it was subsequently agreed to cancel the event for 2020 due to continued restrictions.

The only contract in place for the event was for the lighting element and at this meeting it was also agreed to offer AJC LTD a contract holiday for 2020 with an additional year to be added to the contract term.

They are therefore contracted to a value of £100,000 to deliver lighting illuminations for the event in 2021 and 2022.

Current restrictions in place limit attendance at outdoor events to 500.

The proposed arrangements for Enchanted Winter Garden approved in 2020 are based upon a capacity each evening of the event of 7,500 with 1,250 being admitted at half hourly pre-booked intervals form 4pm to 7pm nightly.

A report due before the full monthly meeting of council this week said: “Should all restrictions around events be lifted by December there is likely to be a significant appetite for this extremely popular event and it is proposed if this is the case that the approved arrangements for the 2020 event, as approved by Committee in February 2020, be delivered in 2021.

“Planning on this basis can commence without firm commitments being made so there is no risk to the council should the event ultimately not be able to run.”

A number of dates and times are proposed for the Enchanted Winter Garden 2021.

The first option is to run the event over 18 nights, with 1,250 visitors at each of six sessions.

Officers said that, taking into account the uncertainty around restrictions alternative options for delivery of the Enchanted Winter Garden event, if restrictions are as they are currently, with a limit of 500 permitted at outdoor events the event could be delivered as an animated trail experience following a one-way route around Antrim Castle Gardens with the a full illumination experience, music and limited other animations but no large scale attractions or food village.

This model could be delivered with a reduced cost and if delivered over additional dates, can generate sufficient ticketing income to deliver the event within the approved budget of £46,000.

This model would operate over 23 nights with longer opening times, with 500 visitors at each of four sessions.

Another alternative for delivery of the event could be operation of the model restricted to 500 at any one time from Hallowe’en to December at weekends only initially, which officers say could ‘potentially can achieve additional income but also support town centre recovery by bringing additional footfall over a longer period’.

This would see the event stretched over 36 nights, with 500 visitors at each of four sessions.

Officers say that this model, which adds 13 nights, can potentially bring a further 26,000 visitors to the event and therefore to the town.

The cost of the lighting illumination installation is fixed so additional nights of the event bring limited additional cost, which will be covered by additional ticket income ensuring the event is delivered within the approved budget of £46,000.

For both alternative options, the approved ticket fees are proposed to still apply.

The report said: “The additional attractions delivered within the full event experience carry additional charges therefore it is reasonable to apply the same ticket fee to an animated trail event experience.

“Previous post event surveys carried out consistently found that the most popular aspect of the event is the lighting illuminations with a 95% satisfaction rating.”

Should restrictions not permit large scale events in late autumn and winter, then it is proposed that the event be cancelled and the contract for the illuminations, to the value of £46,000 equivalent to the event budget, be delivered across town centres to achieve additional seasonal animation to support the retail sector.

It was due to be proposed that the delivery of the Enchanted Winter Garden event on the basis previously agreed for the 2020 event be approved providing restrictions permit and should the restrictions exist as at present limiting numbers to 500 then the event delivery model be adjusted as outlined above with a further report to be brought back to the council.

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