Lights out for now: Smashed metal tree to be replaced but cause of damage still a mystery, says St. James BIZ

The St. James BIZ is hoping insurance will cover the replacement of an LED metal tree sculpture that crashed to the ground Saturday.

LED metal tree sculptures have become part of community, says BIZ director

An LED metal tree sculpture, like those seen here, was destroyed after it crashed to the ground last Saturday. The St. James BIZ is waiting on a quote to find out how much it will cost to replace the decorative tree. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

The St. James Business Improvement Zone is hoping insurance will cover the replacement of an LED metal tree sculpture that crashed to the ground last Saturday.

Jennifer Mathieson, the executive director the Winnipeg neighbourhood's BIZ, says they're not sure how the tree ended up flattened on Portage Avenue near Berry Street early on the morning of June 2, but suspect it was hit by a car.

"We don't know where it originally landed," she said. "It was dragged and placed … half on the sidewalk, half on the curb.

"We have contacted police who have no reports of the incident. We have yet to find out if anyone in the area had caught it on a security camera, and we're trying to find out if [Manitoba Public Insurance] … received any reports."

Because the trees were custom-made, the BIZ can't simply pick up the phone and order a new one, said Mathieson, and the tree is damaged beyond repair.

The organization is waiting on a quote to find out how much it will cost to replace the decorative tree.

The BIZ is hoping their insurance with the city will cover the cost of manufacturing a replacement. In the meantime, the tree, which is hard-wired, will have to be removed and the wires capped by Manitoba Hydro.

Tall tale

The story behind the metal trees is a bit of a — well, tall tale.

The trees were purchased in the early 2000s when LED — or light-emitting diode — technology still wasn't widely used for city lights.

The custom-made trees were installed along a few blocks on Portage Avenue in the BIZ's territory, to replace real trees that had died over the years.

The BIZ was ultimately disappointed in the trees, saying at the time the LED trees were not as bright as they had hoped and weren't easily repaired when normal breakage happened.

The St. James Business Improvement Zone is hoping insurance will cover the replacement of an LED metal tree sculpture, like those seen here, that crashed to the ground on June 2, 2018. (Elisha Dacey/CBC)

The trees were turned off and stood dark for several years.

The BIZ then decided to revamp the trees and create six distinct plazas, grouping the trees into threes and adding live trees, a bench and bike rack near each.

"They were refurbished, cleaned up — I mean, they're galvanized steel, so they were pressure-washed, power-blasted, sanded again, new LED roping wrapped around the leaves."

The response from the public was immediate and mostly positive when the plazas were completed in 2016, said Mathieson.

"We find people sitting out on the benches, more people riding their bikes and using our bike racks, and a lot of people really protecting the trees," she said. 

"Our border ends at Bruce Park, and we've received calls past Bruce Park ... the businesses down there asking 'When can we get our metal trees?'"

Because the trees are custom made, Mathieson said it will likely take several months, if not a year, before the damaged tree is replaced.