Albany's Washington Park is aglow with Capital Holiday Lights

In the mid-1990s, Bob Wolfgang had an idea for a new way to use Albany's Washington Park.

At the time, Wolfgang worked with the Albany Police Department. He and the Police Athletic League took his idea to Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings: How about holding a holiday light show in the park?

Jennings embraced the idea, and Capital Holiday Lights was born.

The thought was it would be a major holiday attraction, said Lenny Ricchiuti, PAL's executive director.

It's probably fair to say that vision has been realized. The show is now in its 12th year. Billed as a "drive-through spectacular," it incorporates more than 125 lighted holiday displays throughout Washington Park. It draws more than 100,000 visitors a year from all over the region -- and even all over the country.

"We saw 13 different license plates last year," Ricchiuti said. There were cars from both Florida and Alaska, he said. Closer to home, an informal survey of visitors found people had come from Buffalo, Long Island and all points in between.

Lots of people come back to the lights display every year, and with good reason. The show is never the same from one year to the next. Ricchiuti believes that's one of the keys to its success. Around 2000, another group started a holiday light show in the region, he said. The next year, it featured all of the same displays.

That was about the end of that, Ricchiuti said.

To keep things fresh at Capital Holiday Lights, organizers decided at the outset not to buy the majority of displays they use. Instead, they leased them. That gives them flexibility to showcase new displays each year.

"With our show, it's at least 70 -- and closer to 80 -- percent new," Ricchiuti said. "We just keep trying to reinvent it each year."

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