Man Who Thought of Nights of Lights 18 Years Ago is Surprised at Success | News
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The man who came up with the Nights of Lights idea can't believe it's become so popular.
"I'm very surprised its gone this far," Bill Lennon said.
Lennon is now a Public Service Assistant, or PSA, for the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. Between working cases and writing reports Wednesday, he explained how he came up with the idea.
But first, picture him.
He listens to Christmas music in his patrol car. He wishes people on the street "Merry Christmas," and with white hair and a beard, he even looks a little like Santa.
He smiled at that and said, "I think I like that. I used to play Santa."
The soft-spoken man was a St. Augustine City Commissioner in 1994. He noticed that St. George Street shut down during the winter and the city was dark.
"I figured with Flagler designing all these buildings, how beautiful it would be if we did the outline of the buildings for Christmas," Lennon recalled.
Lennon had the support of city officials, but he had to convince the merchants on St. George Street to stay open. Over time, they did.
Lennon said he may have had the first idea, but a lot of city staff and merchants made the magic happen.
Over the years, the Nights of Lights has exploded and has ignited the tourism business in the area.
"I think there's a lot of money getting made there," Lennon gave a wry smile.
However, Lennon did not know until First Coast News told him Wednesday that, according to the St. Johns County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Nights of Lights is credited for bringing in about $90 million of tourism money to the area from November through January.
"That's nothing to sneeze at," Lennon quietly laughed. "That's fantastic!"
Eighteen years later after the first lighting, National Geographic has ranked St. Augustine's Nights of Lights one of the ten best places in the world to see holiday lights.
That has tourism officials excited.
Richard Goldman of the Visitors and Convention Bureau said because of that ranking, "I think we'll see an increase in visitors and it will carry on into next year as well."
"It's incredible. Here's our little city," Lennon added, "matching some of the big cities throughout Europe!"
Lennon may not drive a sleigh, but his idea to light up St. Augustine may be better than any gift to come down a chimney.