This article was originally published by the Wichita Eagle newspaper on September 26, 2017

Beloved downtown tree moves to new ‘Christmas wonderland’ in Old Town

By Matt Riedl

We’re three months away, but Jason Van Sickle and the folks at the Old Town Association are already thinking Christmas.

And they’ve got grand plans.

Starting this year, the City of Wichita’s traditional Christmas tree – which for years was set up in Kennedy Plaza outside Century II during the holidays – will relocate to Old Town Square.

That’s in addition to a variety of other holiday events the Old Town Association is planning, including extended hours for carriage rides, holiday carolers and decorations on various Old Town buildings.

“We just really want to have an exciting place where people can go weekend after weekend and know they’re going to see (Christmas activities), and there’s nothing like that right now in town,” said Jason Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association. “We want to create that, especially since we are in the middle – the hub of the city – being downtown.”

Retailers and other business owners in Old Town are busily planning a month and a half of Christmas-themed activities in Old Town, starting with carriage rides every weekend in December.

The plans aren’t entirely firm yet, but most businesses will decorate their storefronts for the holidays – and Old Town Square will be especially decked out, Van Sickle said.

“We’re going to have the retailers in Old Town Square decorate their stores to make the area feel more like a Christmas wonderland,” Van Sickle said.

Relocating the downtown Christmas tree to Old Town Square makes it easier for people to take pictures with the tree, he said. The annual Mayor’s Tree Lighting event is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 2 in Old Town Square.

“(Old Town Square) is more accessible,” Van Sickle said. “(The tree outside Century II) is a nice thing to see when you’re driving down Douglas, but it’s an awkward place to park if you want to go up to it and take a picture. Old Town is more picturesque.

“It seemed like a better fit to have it (in Old Town) than on a corner away from everything.”

Some things will be the same, though: there will still be free carriage rides in Old Town Square on weekend mornings, though the plan is to extend carriage-ride hours into the evenings for an extra charge, Van Sickle said.

The Old Town Association is developing a website specifically for its holiday happenings – stay posted for more details and a complete schedule when that website launches.

Can Old Town become a scaled-down version of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, which is known for its holiday lights?

Only time will tell.

“We’re perfectly situated – we have the most dense population of business and retail establishments in Wichita,” Van Sickle said. “It’s real exciting. Wichita’s never had anything like this before to do at the holidays.”