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December 5, 2012

New tree is a holiday hit, despite costs

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
The city’s new artificial tree was purchased earlier this fall after the Department of Public Services recommended that the ‘climbing tree,’ seen in the background, was becoming too old and fragile to decorate for the holidays.

BIRMINGHAM — It’s drawn quite a bit of controversy over the past couple of months, but when the lights on the new artificial Holiday Tree in Shain Park were turned on Nov. 21, there were nothing but smiles from the Birmingham residents who were there looking on.

The City Commission approved the purchase of the new tree Sept. 24 after Department of Public Services Director Lauren Wood explained why decorating an artificial tree for the holiday season would be safer and more sustainable in the long run.

“There’s a safety issue with us decorating it,” said Wood of the city’s well-known “climbing tree” in Shain Park, which for years was decorated with lights for the holiday season. “It’s a White Pine located in the play area of Shain Park. It is over 70 years old and its health condition is in decline. It has lost limbs over the past several years. While people refer to it as ‘the climbing tree,’ we do not reference it as such. In fact, I tell others it is not a climbing tree.”

Wood explained that the cost of decorating the climbing tree in years past has been around $3,000-$6,000, and she estimated the cost of purchasing a new live tree would cost the city about $10,000-$12,000 each year. The new artificial tree, she said, will actually save the city money in the long run, since it’s expected to last at least 10 years for a one-time expenditure of $29,223.78.

Despite the overall savings and the discounted cost to the city, which came when the Birmingham Principal Shopping District offered to pay for half, many residents thought the tree was just too expensive. Two such residents were Commissioners Rackeline Hoff and Stuart Sherman, who both voted against the measure at the Sept. 24 meeting.

“Even though I didn’t vote for it, I’m sure it’s going to be spectacular,” said Hoff, explaining that her dissenting vote was strictly a financial decision, not a vote against holiday festivities in the city.

Despite concerns, when the new tree was finally erected and presented to the community at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony, most of those in attendance seemed pleased with the new Tannenbaum.

“That’s the reason we moved to Birmingham — the amenities and the fun,” said Eileen Pourcho, who moved to the city with her husband two years ago. “It’s a lot of money, but it brings the community together and I know we’ll drive by it every night.”

Gloria Pankratz came from Troy for the tree lighting, and said although her tax dollars won’t be used to pay for the tree, she thinks it was a good investment for Birmingham.

“After so much time, I think it’ll pay for itself if they put it up year after year, instead of a fresh tree,” she said.

Marian Beck has lived in Birmingham for 51 years. As she looked around at the families gathered in the park for the tree’s inaugural lighting, she decided there’s no way a price can be put on holiday spirit.

“Look at the people joining together — who cares about the cost?” said Beck.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.