Bright Lights Windsor gets lit for last time tonight

The gates open at 5:30 p.m. for the last Bright Lights Windsor display of the year.

Winter festival was popular with visitors and online detractors

Bright Lights Windsor started on December 8, 2017 and was extended to January 9, 2018. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Tuesday marked the last night of the season for the Bright Lights Windsor holiday display and many stopped by Jackson Park to snap one final photo before the lights come down for the year.

"I wanted to catch it on the last day because I heard they're taking it down tomorrow so I just wanted to see what the hype was all about," said Reena Budwal who was visiting the display for the first time.

Budwal wasn't alone in her positive reaction to the festival.

"It's fantastic. We waited until the last minute to come out and see it and I'm glad we didn't miss it. It's something that's really nice to see and it's great for Windsor," said Casey Findley.

Nancy Reaume was also impressed, describing the lights as "absolutely phenomenal."

The festival's hours were extended shortly after its opening night on Dec. 8 because of a bigger than expected turnout.

But the path to bright lights at Jackson Park wasn't easy. 

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens original proposal to council was for a holiday display that included a $3-million price tag in the first year with an annual operating cost of nearly $300,000.

That proposal was a split vote between council with Dilkens casting the deciding vote in favour of his own motion.

A 'top-notch' event

Ward 3 councillor Rino Bortolin voted against the display, citing other concerns such as alley lighting that the residents he represents found more pressing.

The downtown councillor said he lives near Jackson Park and has seen the lights essentially every day since they went up. But despite being a "top-notch display" he stands by his vote.

Coun. Rino Bortolin voted against the Bright Lights Windsor festival. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"I still believe ... it's mixed in with other priorities and things that needed funding," he explained. "It doesn't necessarily change my vote ... but at the same time obviously it's a great event.

"Any time we're putting on a festival with tax-payer dollars I think there always should be questions."

Flood of complaints

The vote was cast as record rainfall doused the region and flooded more than 6,500 basements in Windsor-Essex. 

Following the flooding, a petition went around complaining about the set-up cost of the lights display and arguing that money could be better spent on sewers or relief efforts for those with damaged homes. Eventually Dilkens announced the city would instead split the startup cost, spending $1.5 million on the display each year over the next two years. 

(Dale Molnar/CBC)

The $300,000 operating budget is expected to remain the same.

Bortolin said council has already voted to set aside the $1.5 million, so it's unlikely those funds will be used for something else.

"Next year you'll see basically I would describe it as double," he explained. "I don't think there was a shortage of discussion around this issue. It is what it is. We've voted on it and we're going to move ahead."

Tonight the gates will open at 5:30 in Jackson Park for the last time until next December. 

Here's some of the top photos from Instagram where people checked in to Jackson Park