This season's holiday light show in Vernon Hills could be the last
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Since debuting in 1994, Vernon Hills' Winter Wonderland drive-through holiday light show on the grounds of the former Cuneo estate has become one of the largest in the suburbs.
Village officials last September signed a contract with Loyola University Chicago for the 2013 version that, beginning Nov. 29, again will wend through the grounds of the Cuneo Mansion & Gardens.
Public works crews have begun the intricate setup for the annual spectacle, and the invitations for special event license plates that have come to be associated with the show have been sent.
But will it be the last season?
That's a possibility as Loyola, which owns the 88 acres west of Milwaukee Avenue and north to the Canadian National railroad, considers developing the northern half of the property.
"Now it looks like they're more serious. We were kind of wondering last year if it would be the last one," Village Manager Mike Allison said. "I'm sure they're hoping they are under development next year."
The property, which includes the 31,000-square-foot Venetian-style home, was given to Loyola by the Cuneo Foundation in 2010. The intention was that a portion of the property would be sold and the proceeds used for student scholarships, said Tim McGuriman, associate vice president capital planning and campus management.
Whether or how fast that may happen is unknown. And while there are ongoing discussions with the village regarding potential development plans, nothing has been presented publicly.
The property is zoned for residential uses, and the village recognizes the potential for some multifamily housing on the property in its comprehensive plan. The plan also notes that any development there would need to be of unique design and character.
"There's been a number of different proposals," Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said. Several conceptual plans for single-family homes have been discussed, but no agreement has been reached, he said.
And there are other considerations. Because it provided sewer and water to allow for development of the sprawling Gregg's Landing subdivision to the west, Lake County also is a party to the original Cuneo annexation agreement.
"First, they have to convince us what they come up with is a good plan, then they'd have to meet with the county," Allison said.
Loyola told the village it would make a determination regarding the 2013-14 season over the summer, and if it was in the interests of both parties, it would proceed for another year. That turned out to be the case.
But it's too early to tell for sure whether there will be a show in 2014-15.
"There's a tremendous amount of work and discussions and negotiations that have to take place," Kalmar said. "This could be a very lengthy process that ultimately could lead to construction."
Village records show 23,336 tickets were sold for last year's light show from Nov. 23 to Dec. 31. Under terms of the lease, Loyola gets 30 percent of the gross admission fees, which totaled about $186,000.
The event is not regarded as a moneymaker for the village. If it were to be discontinued, it would represent the end of a tradition rather than a loss of revenue.
"We do it for the community," Allison said. "We try to get close to breaking even, but it promotes the community in a variety of ways."
This year, the village will spend $20,000 advertising the event — $10,000 in direct mail pieces and $10,000 as part of the Lake County Convention & Visitor Bureau's holiday campaign, which will include radio, digital billboards, print advertising and social media marketing.
No big changes are planned for the show this year, but village officials are aware of the timing.
"If it is the last year, we hope to make it one to remember," Kalmar said.
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