WINDSOR, ONT. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of hundreds of events since March, and you can add Windsor’s annual Bright Lights festival to that growing list.

“Unfortunately with the situation and the restrictions we’re under, we’re not going to be able to present Bright Lights in the way that we have been accustomed to over the last few years,” says the city’s parks and recreation executive director, Jan Wilson.

A report going before council on Monday explains the city’s ability to host the event at Jackson Park wouldn’t be possible due to restrictions on public gathering. Wilson estimates approximately 3,000 people typically shuffle through Bright Lights on any given day during the display from December to January.

“We did consult with the medical officer of health, we looked at some alternatives, but we just weren’t in a position to offer it in a way that we’re accustomed to,” she says.

But with roughly $500,000 budgeted for this year’s event, the city was eager to salvage some semblance of the holiday spirit while keeping lights in the mix.

One idea being presented at the Oct. 19 regular council meeting is to partner up with the various business improvement associations to provide a matching-fund grant opportunity to string up lighting displays around the designated small business zones.

“It’s exciting to see what each of the BIAs might want to look at doing in their own areas. We’re presenting ideas to council to see what they may be willing to do,” Wilson says.

According to the report, the city is considering matching funding between $1,000 and $20,000 per BIA. There are nine such areas throughout the city and the funding would be considered for the 2020 season only.

“So if the BIAs could come up with some funding to purchase or rent or create some temporary displays, the option would be there for the city to help match that and leverage the funding to present something even more spectacular.”

The idea of putting displays throughout the city at area parks was considered but security concerns and the risk of vandalism or theft was too great to consider that option.

The city is also contemplating moving some of the iconic displays indoors at city hall and the aquatic centre so people can still admire the lights safely from outside.

“We want to ensure that the magic and the wonderful experience that people are used to at Bright Lights is sustained and it’s not something we felt we can do justice to this year,” says Wilson. “It won’t be the same, but we certainly want to provide an element of that.”

Wilson says other options include not spending anything in 2020 and instead putting the money toward the city’s budget variance created by the pandemic.

If council chose to endorse the BIA matching fund proposal, it would cost $180,000, creating budgeted savings of nearly $200,000.

“We want to present a balanced opportunity but certainly there might be other ideas that come forward as a result of this presentation,” Wilson says.