Coming soon: 'Kinston Christmas'

Coming soon: 'Kinston Christmas'

Leon Steele, the executive director of the Pride of Kinston, takes in the view of the Neuse River with the King Street Bridge behind him Wednesday morning. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News

Pride of Kinston Executive Director Leon Steele has a holiday vision for downtown – and it involves lots and lots of lights.

Steele is promoting the idea of a “Kinston Christmas” display that would consist of programmable LED lights along the Neuse River from the King Street Bridge to Pearson Park. The lights would be installed along the bridge and then on the trees on both sides of the river.

“This is a really good economic development opportunity,” Steele said. “It’s tourism-based and it’s going to bring a whole lot of people into town on weekends from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.”

Steele’s vision is based on a city in Louisiana – Natchitoches – where he worked in the lieutenant governor’s office. Steele said every holiday season, Natchitoches – which is approximately the same size of Kinston – hosts a lights display that includes fireworks on some Saturday nights.

Throughout the holiday season, Steele said more than 100,000 visitors flock to Natchitoches to see the lights and fireworks.

The programmable lights would display Christmas colors during the holiday season – but since the lights would be permanently installed, they could change colors for every season.

“We could change them to whatever color we want – red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, or just white lights reflecting on the water,” Steele said. “That would be a really nice welcoming opportunity for the gateway coming into downtown.”

After the initial installation of lights along the river, Steele envisions the project eventually expanding to the Neuseway Nature Center, where there would be a drive-through for visitors and a wagon trails experience.

While some funds will be coming from the city, Steele is asking businesses and individuals in Kinston and Lenoir County to donate to start the project, which he said will be ready for the 2018 holiday season. Steele said it would take about $40,000 from community donations to make Kinston Christmas a reality. As of Wednesday morning, only a couple of days after Steele announced the initiative on Facebook and on the Pride website, more than half the goal had already been raised.

Steele said he’s not surprised at the response.

 “There are lots and lots and lots of people here who absolutely love Kinston and want to see downtown continue to flourish and revitalize itself,” he said. “This is just part of the program. Lots has been done over the years before I got here last Thanksgiving to put things in place and those were good foundations.”

Folks who’d like to donate to the cause are asked to go to DowntownKinston.com and click on the Kinston Christmas button at the top of the page or visit the Pride page on Facebook.

“Philanthropy is not about writing a big check, it’s about giving,” Steele said. “If you can’t write a big check, that’s cool; $10, $20, $50 or donate more and challenge your friends to match it.”

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