Rain has been the main culprit causing lights to go out on downtown Conway’s 54-foot artificial Christmas tree, said an employee of Get Lit in Springdale.
“Typically, what you run into when you’re dealing with large outdoor trees like this — water and electricity don’t get along,” said Nate Robinson, creative director for Get Lit, in an interview last week.
“It’s been a wet December,” he said.
Robinson said that when city officials decide it is time to take the tree down, Get Lit will take it back to Springdale.
“We would like to bring our tree back to our facility after it comes down this year so we can go over it with a fine-tooth comb,” Robinson said.
“We are bringing it back at our cost, on our dime, to fix the tree … and make the components more robust if we need to,” he said.
The tree had a section at the top that didn’t work during the tree-lighting ceremony in November, and several sections were unlit during the following weeks.
Robinson said the lights are designed to go off if they get wet to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
“Per code, outlets for the street are GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected. That’s a fancy way of saying if water gets into sockets, or anything like that, it trips that to prevent [the tree] from being an electrocution hazard. There’s nothing wrong with the tree per se,” Robinson said.
He said there isn’t any danger of someone walking up to the tree and getting seriously hurt.
“It would just cause a blip,” he said.
Also, Robinson said the Conway tree has been vandalized.
“There are multiple instances where individuals have removed bulbs from the tree — and I’m not saying that’s the only reason — but it allows water to get in,” he said.
“I’m not saying that’s the only issue. … It’s not the citizens’ fault, … but that’s not helping,” he said.
Asked if vandalism is more of a problem in Conway than other places, Robinson said it seems to be.
“We have a lot of different trees up — we have seen a few more issues with bulbs being removed than we typically do,” he said.
In a statement Get Lit released to the city, the company wrote that “branches and bulbs have been removed; plugs have been unplugged. In one instance, a plug was burned by an external source. These attempts at vandalism have either caused parts of the tree to be unlit or created openings in the circuits where water could easily enter and cause a GFCI to trip.”
Two surveillance cameras have been installed on light poles in Rogers Plaza in the east entrance to downtown Conway, where the tree is located.
Photos of the tree with big portions unlit have been posted on Facebook with comments about how much the tree cost — about $125,000 — which included setup and training of the city’s physical-plant employees.
The tree was paid for with advertising-and-promotions-tax funds, which come from a 2 percent tax on prepared foods and hotel/motel costs. The money cannot be used for streets or general-fund projects.
Conway’s tree is said to be the state’s largest artificial tree.
Robinson said the company had made “a minimum of eight trips” to Conway to work on the tree, all at no cost to the city.
“We pride ourselves in being a full-service company,” he said.
“We stay in touch with them,” Jack Bell, the chief of staff for Conway’s mayor, said. “It’s just as important for them to do well as for us.”
Steve Ibbotson, director of the Conway Parks and Recreation Department, said Rogers Plaza is the responsibility of his department and the city’s physical plant.
He said he has heard comments about the cost of the tree, but he doesn’t believe the cost is out of line.
“The fact of the matter, it’s not something you can go down to Walmart and buy. It has to be constructed in a manner that can be safe to be in the public domain and withstand the wind and snow and rain and anything else Mother Nature can bring its way,” he said.
“I think it was a fair price for the tree because a lot of those prices people are throwing out at other locations — you don’t hear them talk about decorations; you don’t hear them talk about shipping; you don’t hear them talk about coming and setting it up,” Ibbotson said.
Some of those trees aren’t as big as Conway’s, either, he said.
Ibbotson said the tree has drawn people to Conway.
“I’ve been out there, and we’ve had people from Cabot and Searcy taking pictures with families,” he said.
Ibbotson met with Get Lit employees one Sunday afternoon for them to repair the lights.
“You’re not going to get that anywhere else. Somebody’s not going to run down from Connecticut to work on this tree,” he said.
“I can’t speak to what they did and how they did it, but the good side of that is, they’ve recognized they have some issues, and they’re going to address them, and it’s not going to cost us anything else,” Ibbotson said.
Robinson said Get Lit is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the tree is ready for next season.
He said employees go “above and beyond. They don’t just bring a truck and say, ‘Here’s your tree – have a good day.’”
“We are going to ensure that any issues that have arisen this year are going to be resolved,” Robinson said.
“We feel confident and comfortable with the tree going forward.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.