Holiday cheer filched for copper cash

jgaines@macon.comNovember 4, 2011 

Macon’s traditional downtown Christmas decorations testify through their tatters that the Grinch never sleeps.

When not in use, the brightly-lit toy factory, “countdown to Christmas” sign, sports-playing snowmen and Santa Claus stay in storage at Allied Industrial Park, said Mechel McKinley, Macon Main Street director.

This year, when workers in mid-October went to prepare the 14 ground displays for the holiday show, they discovered that someone had broken into the storage building and stripped copper wiring from all 14, said Wanzina Jackson, director of the city Economic & Community Development Department.

The damage: $6,000.

And for all that, the thief may not have made much more than the price of a hamburger. According to metal merchants Schnitzer Southeast, the kind of copper wire stripped from the decorations would bring just 65 cents per pound.

The theft could have occurred anytime between the end of July and its mid-October discovery, Jackson said.

The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority lets various organizations store infrequently used items in the building, McKinley said, but it didn’t appear that other property had been damaged.

The lights strung from downtown poles were not stripped, and firefighters are stringing those up now, she said. But replacing the ground displays will cost a lot of money.

There’s nothing put aside to buy new ones, so for now officials are planning to rent from Winterland Inc. of Marion, Ind., McKinley said.

That, however, will take $8,000.

Ten local organizations already have stepped forward to contribute, she said: Capitol City Bank, Coliseum Health Centers, Georgia College & State University, the Marriott City Center, The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Mercer University, Middle Georgia Ambulance, Riverside Ford, Robins Federal Credit Union and attorneys Sell & Melton.

But organizers hope more sponsors will help cover the cost, Jackson and McKinley said.

“We are definitely still soliciting sponsors,” Jackson said.

The new ground displays should be ready to go up in about 10 days, McKinley said, and “we’ll have everything ready to go for Thursday, Dec. 1.”

That’s the date for the annual Christmas tree lighting in Rosa Parks Square, McKinley said. That 6:30 p.m. event, the kickoff of “Christmas in Downtown” activities, will feature nearly 250 students caroling, the Bibb County Board of Education, County Commission Chairman Sam Hart and Mayor Robert Reichert.

Various open-house events and specials at downtown restaurants and stores will coincide the next night with a 6:30 p.m. free showing of “The Polar Express” at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

The Middle Georgia Christmas parade will wind through downtown at 3 p.m. Dec. 4. At that event, volunteers will collect items such as shampoo, lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant for the Mayor’s Christmas Motorcade. Since 1958, the motorcade has taken Christmas gifts to patients in Georgia’s seven mental hospitals. Macon takes gifts to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville.

Free parking is available for all of these events in the Poplar Street parking deck, according to an announcement released by McKinley.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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