ST. PETERSBURG — The towering Christmas tree at the center of North Straub Park is an annual spectacle for those walking and driving down Beach Drive.
The 50-foot tree with more than 39,000 LED lights that strobe and blink and fade and 2,300 ornaments is lit by the mayor each year and remains lit each night through the holiday season.
But this year, it looks a little different.
Lynn Gordon, a parks and recreation manager with the city, said this year the city adopted animated lights activated by a computer switch at the suggestion of Clark Sales Display, the family-owned company based in Tavares that has brought the city its artificial tree and decorations for more than a decade.
Lee Clark, owner of the company, said his father started the business after moving to Florida from Indiana in 1983, where he worked for a manufacturer that made decorations.
"He wanted to do something, so I think he stuck to what he knew," Clark said. Clark and his wife bought the business from him in 2002. They provide the tree and decorations for the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Madeira Beach, Tarpon Springs, Tallahassee and Homestead among others.
Through the year, they have about 10 employees, but at peak season, they expand to about 30.
Every light bulb and ornament has to be checked. New parts have to be ordered in the spring. The frame needs to be repainted and touched up from time to time, and the garlands stripped and replaced. Nothing can rust. The two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving is when they begin the installation so the tree is ready to be lit the day after. After the holidays end, the trees have to be carefully disassembled and stored away. They have about 50 such projects.
"Our guys put in a lot of hours," Clark said.
Gordon said the tree costs about $31,000, part of a $300,000 contract the city has over three years for all the waterfront decorations. The new computer-activated animation, Clark said, is a technology the company has had for a few years.
"The nice part is when you see all the kids and you see all the oohs and the aahs," Clark said. "Christmas is always a happy time of year for most people."
Gordon said the contract for the tree is renewed every three to four years.
"We take a lot of pride in our waterfront display," she said. "It’s one of our premier displays, certainly with folks dining on Beach Drive. It’s a premier showcase."
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.