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Princeton’s Riverside Park Campground will be transformed into an illuminated wonderland later this month in conjunction with a new holiday event being planned by the city and the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The PACC and downtown businesses have previously held a light parade through downtown on Small Business Saturday each November as a way to increase seasonal activity.

That event was scheduled and as a way to boost local economic development for the holiday shopping season.

Recently, consideration was given to reviving the light parade in downtown, but due to COVID-19 that idea wasn’t feasible.

Thinking of ways to promote community, positivity and put Princeton on the map for regional visitors, and hopefully increase holiday shoppers, “Light-up Princeton” was devised by Stephanie Hillesheim, city of Princeton community development specialist, and PACC Executive Director Kim Young.

The event is designed as a new tradition for the city and the community.

In conjunction with the Riverside Park display, which includes lighting the trees along Rum River Drive, local businesses will be encouraged to light up their windows and buildings and participate in a local lighting contest.

Lighting Contest Plans

Current plans feature a themed lighting contest that will focus on Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the classic story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas, only to have his heart changed by a young girl’s holiday spirit, Hillesheim stated in a city council memo.

A map will be created with all of the participating businesses identified for visitors to view.

This map will feature Princeton Public Utilities’ 2020 holiday lighting contest entrant locations.

As part of Small Business Saturday, the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce is also hosting a Shop Local QR Code Scavenger Hunt as another incentive to encourage people to shop locally this holiday season.

A kick-off lighting ceremony is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov, 28.

Prior to the lighting ceremony, Santa will be on the Riverside Park fishing pier from 2 4 p.m.

The drive-through light displays will be illuminated from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Jan. 1, 2021.

Event Idea Presented

The event budget is estimated to be approximately $14,000, Hillesheim said.

She presented the concept to Princeton city leaders at their Oct. 22 meeting.

Princeton Park and Recreation Advisory Board members have expressed support for the Brighten 2020 and Light-Up Princeton concept. The seven-member board is appointed by the council and responsible for general park and facility oversight.

“We’ve been trying to figure out what to do with Small Business Saturday,” Hillesheim told the city council. “People are looking for ways they can socially distance and stay in their cars. We think this event, and having Santa on the new park fishing pier, will be a really great way to brighten up the year for everybody.”

The city council decided to put up $5,000 of budgeted, unused community promotion dollars towards a match to donations for this project.

Hillesheim reported last week that the city has currently received $1,000 from Princeton Insurance, $2,500 from Princeton Public Utilities. City staff has been told they could likely expect $2,500 from the Princeton American Legion.

Last week, Hillesheim also reported that the city and chamber have reached out to the Jaycees, Lions, Auxiliary, Civic Betterment Club, Twice New, VFW and others to reach the goal of raising the $14,000 for the new community event.

“We haven’t used any money from our community promotion budget for economic development and planning and a similar budget for parks this year,” Hillesheim said, adding the Princeton Lions Club will be reviewing a request on Nov. 2. The city has requests out to Kwik Trip and other local organizations.

Riverside Park Transformation

The project budget Hillesheim developed includes lighting the trees in Riverside Park, and having animated scenes. “These displays would be unique, and bring people into town to see them,” she said. “The $14,000 seems kind of steep, but if you look at the long-term, it would be a good investment that could last for years, and we could build upon it like we do with current holiday decorations.”

Councilor Jules Zimmer took the lead on suggesting city financial support.

“This is a community project, there’s no doubt in my mind of that,” he said. “I’m a little concerned about the money part, and the $5,000, and where we are actually going to come up with that. If we want to support this project, there might be other ways to do it, as opposed to monetary. He suggested in-kind work.

Councilor Jenny Gerold asked Hillesheim to clarify funding sources during the council’s Oct. 22 discussion of the Light-up Princeton funding request.

“Because of certain events were shut down this year, we just didn’t spend any of their promotional money,” Hillesheim explained. “We also put in $1,800 into the park promotion budget for canoe and kayak program planning, but that was event-related. Those events didn’t take place either, so we have money left over.”

Other Event Logistics

Promoting community togetherness is important this year, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“Mental health is something we hear about a lot. These are all good reasons to invest in this event. I was just not sure what the council’s comfort level would be. There are different ways we can make it work,” she said.

The PACC had received an Explore Minnesota grant for approximately $1,200 for event advertising, Hillesheim reported. “I can see why the chamber would be supporting this,” Zimmer said. “Our businesses are important to the community.”

Gerold asked Hillesheim where the new holiday decorations would be stored.

As presented to the council, her budget included a number of scene-related items, including a North Pole express train and crossing, fire engine, a dock-mounted Santa Claus, a Santa airplane with banner, and Santa sleigh with three reindeer.

Hillesheim said Princeton Public Utilities General Manager Keith Butcher told her PPU would have some space available to store the new decorations.

“What’s the timeline on this?” asked Mayor Brad Schumacher. “There’s a lot to do, and this will be our first time doing this. Do we have enough time?”

Hillesheim replied, “We really need to get going on this. This request is kind of an immediate ask. We need to get lights ordered. We are talking to Walmart and Marv’s True Value in Princeton to see if they are interested in donating any of the lights that they may have.”

Hillesheim told the council she had spoken with Public Works Director Bob Gerold about plowing the park pathway throughout to provide drive-by display access.

City Approves Matching Funds

During discussion, Schumacher asked Zimmer to make a motion to approve the event funding. That’s when Zimmer suggested the idea of a match program.

Zimmer replied he wanted to start with a figure that Hillesheim had and felt was within her budget. “It’s $5,000, actually,” Hillesheim said. “I put the $4,000 originally from economic development and $1,000 from the park budget.”

Zimmer’s made a motion to have the city promote the new event, along with the chamber, and seek contributions that would be matched up to a $5,000 total.

Councilor Jack Edmonds seconded Zimmer’s motion, agreeing with the funding concept, but wondered about putting a dollar value on any in-kind contributions.

“Some business were not hurt by COVID-19,” Edmonds said. “Others were. We don’t to go out and start picking on people who are in pretty bad shape.”

Zimmer said his motion dealt strictly with cash. Edmonds concurred.

Councilor Jeff Reynolds asked Bob Gerold about a cost range for providing public works labor.

“I will work with Stephanie to make this come to fruition,” Gerold said.

Councilor Jenny Gerold asked Princeton Police Chief Todd Frederick about vandalism prevention planning for Riverside Park once decorations are installed

“With the park being open in the winter, it would be no different than the summer,” Frederick said. “Keeping this to vehicle traffic is probably a little bit easier. We will add patrols. I would like to see a plan on traffic flow and times.”

Promoting Princeton, Volunteering

According to Hillesheim, from a community development standpoint, events like “Light-up Princeton” are essential to helping create a community worth visiting and even moving to.

A recent study from the University of Minnesota Extension has found in rural Minnesota it is not only jobs that are attracting new residents and families, but due to the nature of transportation opportunities, families are choosing to live where they see the pace of life and community they desire.

While such events may seem frivolous or unnecessary, they help communities grow and increase commercial sales and visits, she stated in a memo.

In discussions with the PPU, the utility has provided a rebate program to help cover the cost of the LED lights that are purchased for the project, which can cover up to 50% off, depending on the number of bulbs, Hillesheim said.

Conversations regarding plowing of the park road, potential vandalism and other issues were addressed at recent city of Princeton supervisor meeting, she added.

Businesses that want to donate should contact Hillesheim at (763) 389-2040 or or PACC Executive Director Kim Young at

Donors will be acknowledged on social media, individual and event signage, print and digital advertising and lighting contest maps. Organizers also need volunteers for event set-up and take-down.

Set-up: Nov. 23 and Nov. 24: Two shifts of 18 people each, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. To sign-up, visit the city’s webpage at and click on the community info link.

That link will take you to the Light-Up Princeton page.

Take-down: Week of Jan. 1, 2021. More information is coming about this task. To sign-up click on the link on the Light-Up Princeton page on the city’s webpage.

Event workers: Sign-up for a night to volunteer (Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays) 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Organizers need three volunteers, but more are always welcome.

Volunteers will keep traffic flowing, collect food and monetary donations, and lock-up all donations at the end of the event.

They will pick-up any litter or trash created by the event and set-up and take down signs. Community organizations are welcome.

Remember: Light-Up Princeton is a community event that will support the local food shelf, increase positivity in the community, encourage local shopping, and provide a platform for non-profit organizations to participate and raise funds.

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