FORT WAYNE — As the major players took the stage, attendees huddled around the 35-foot blue spruce in Broadway Plaza on Friday night, holding hot drinks and waiting.
The two sons of Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, did the honors of lighting the tree, which boasts 28,000 multicolored lights, said Steve Shine, attorney and organizer of the event.
Mayor Tom Henry and representatives from sponsoring organizations were also present for the lighting ceremony, which also included snacks, drinks, caroling, train rides and appearances by Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
The event is in its eighth year and has continued to grow. Crowd estimates from city police totaled about 1,500, an increase from 100 attendees in the event’s inception.
“It’s very encouraging to the businesses … and to let them see the activity that can be brought to the Broadway corridor,” Shine said.
He said the area has seen a number of improvements and growth since last year’s event.
Barb Schoppman, president of the Broadway Business Association, said the event is a perfect way to showcase the corridor’s diversity and what it has to offer the community, not just surrounding neighborhoods.
She cited ARCH taking over the former Canton Laundry and a member of the association securing a facade grant for renovations to a home at Creighton Avenue and Broadway as recent changes that will benefit the area.
Shine also said discussions about a roundabout at Taylor Street and Broadway are evidence of further development.
“We’re trying to really build up the Broadway corridor,” Shine said. “It’s important to pay tribute and acknowledge the importance of this area.”
Tom Tiernon, president of the nearby Oakdale Neighborhood Association, said he’s been coming to the event for several years and has been impressed with its growth.
“It’s become a tradition in Fort Wayne, right here in our own neighborhood,” Tiernon said.
“This is a celebration (the neighborhoods) can share together. It’s very encouraging to see it grow.”
B.J. and Bonnie Vayavong traveled a distance from their neighborhood on the northeast side of Fort Wayne to attend the event, bringing along their 18-month-old daughter Brielle for their first visit.
“It’s a nice family thing to do,” B.J. said.
He said Brielle immediately noticed the “choo-choo train,” and the family expected to hang out despite the long line and cool temperatures to take a ride.