Downtown to transform into Winter Wonderland

wonderland-final-print-redBy Trey Gregory

Wacoans can strap on their ice skates for the upcoming Winter Wonderland.

After two years without a Christmas parade, the city of Waco, the Waco Downtown Development Corp., the Historic Waco Foundation and the downtown Public Improvement Project are making sure Waco will have a holiday parade and festival.

The event starts on Nov. 30 with a tree lighting ceremony and fireworks. The wonderland will end on Dec. 7 with Small Business Saturday, which will include the holiday parade and an opportunity for children to take their picture with Santa Claus.

The main attraction of the eight-day event will be a skating rink set up in downtown Waco. The rink will have artificial ice that is slick and feels like real ice, but is not cold. Everyone is invited to skate on the artificial ice for $5 an hour.

“We want it to be an event that caters to everyone,” said Jonathan Cook, spokesman of the Waco parks and recreation department. “We want everyone to leave with a smile.”

Most of the activities will take place in or around Heritage Square. In addition to the lights on the Christmas tree, Heritage Square will be decorated with thousands of holiday lights.

“The lights are such a spectacular component,” Cook said. “The lights will be up throughout the holiday season.”

Bringing more customers to Waco’s downtown businesses is one of the main goals of the wonderland’s planners.

“We have a lot of excitement for something that will bring businesses downtown, said Drew Vincent, a Baylor doctoral intern with the Downtown Development Corp. “We are trying to build a bridge that connects ice with business.”

In addition to the normal downtown businesses, other venders will set up in or around Heritage Square to offer an enhanced shopping experience.

Megan Henderson, the executive director of the Downtown Development Corp., said several downtown merchants welcome other businesses to come downtown and set up near them because they believe it will bring more customers to their store.

Henderson also said she encourages Baylor students to come downtown for the events.

“It is critical for every student who wants downtown to be better to come downtown and spend money,” Henderson said. “This used to be the time when everybody in Waco went downtown. Please come and add some energy.”

The Waco City Council members expressed their gratitude to the wonderland organizers and said last year’s tree-lighting ceremony and lack of a parade was an embarrassment.

“We got a lot of questions from our constituents about why we didn’t have a parade when many smaller cities around us did,” said Alice Rodriguez, District Two city councilwoman.

The 2011 holiday parade was canceled because of rain and no organization volunteered to organize a holiday parade for 2012. However, the Mighty Wind Worship Center stepped up to organize this year’s holiday parade.

I know there were a lot of disappointed children because we didn’t have a parade last year,” said Wilbert Austin, District One city councilman. “So thank you.”

The Waco Wonderland has a $97,000 budget from the City of Waco and private donors.

Rodriguez said the Mighty Wind Worship Center will not have to pay anything for organizing the parade.

For more information, visit the Waco Wonderland website at