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From September to March each year, downtown Bellingham streets receive a literal brightening of cheer as plentiful lights appear wrapped around trees on busy corridors like Holly Street and Railroad Avenue.

From blue bulbs to signify the return of Western Washington University students to more traditional whites to bring festiveness to the holiday season, this lighting is made possible through a funding partnership between Puget Sound Energy, WWU, the City of Bellingham and the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.

The Foundation for WWU & Alumni was the original primary funder of the welcome lighting, but when their commitment changed, the university reached out to community partners to take a collaborative approach for this year’s funding.

“WWU is delighted to continue to partner with the City of Bellingham to help make our downtown bright, vibrant, and welcoming for all,” says WWU Director of Community Relations Chris Roselli. “The downtown lights brightening up the darker months, our many shared community events throughout the year, and city banners welcoming our students home after summer are all powerful markers of our lasting partnership and commitment to the town we love.”

Liz Purdy, PSE’s community affairs manager, says the partnership was a natural fit considering the partners had already worked together on numerous community endeavors through the years.

“This is an easy, very tangible way for us to see a direct result of funds — creating light, creating economic opportunity,” Purdy says. “It sounds kind of basic, but the entities that are participating in this all want to see a thriving downtown Bellingham.”

Photo courtesy Downtown Bellingham Partnership

PSE provided $15,000 towards the lighting effort, which was matched by the three other partners.

“The lighting is part of our extensive efforts to create and promote a safe, welcoming environment downtown,” says Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood. “We’re so pleased to work with our partners on projects like this one, which adds so much joy to our downtown streets in the winter months.” 

Jenny Hagemann, communications manager for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, says the downtown lighting — which stays up until March 1 — is a great example of behind-the-scenes work done in the name of promoting downtown safety, visibility, and aesthetic design.

It also fits in nicely with DBP’s flower basket program, which begins with fundraising in February and sees baskets installed in early April, Hagemann says. The lighting is especially helpful before and after the holiday season, when downtown restaurants and retailers can see a bit of a dip in business.

Having the lighting is also a big boon to DBP itself. Among their biggest fundraising activities is the November 10 Holiday Wine Walk, which provides 600 tickets for Bellinghamsters to frequent 16 different downtown locations for wine samples and shopping deals.

The lighting also was a nice touch for the recent Bellingham Exit Festival, the inaugural edition of which had a positive impact on weekend traffic downtown. And with the City of Bellingham’s recent recommitment to its downtown safety plan, the lighting simply helps foster a safer, welcoming vibe during some of the year’s darkest months.

“This is preserving a downtown asset that people have come to not just expect, but definitely value,” Hagemman says. “Especially the businesses that are on the tree-lined streets. They look forward to it.”

Purdy appreciates the lighting every time she goes downtown during the late fall and winter months.

“It’s just a dark, dreary, rainy scene sometimes,” she says. “Having that additional bright presence is something we all see as a contributing factor to help people feel welcome downtown, and making it a more inviting place for people to go and visit regularly.”

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