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NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Holiday Market is gone, and A Festival of Lights is a distant memory for those city residents who remember the popular event.

But Niagara Falls still promises to bring some holiday cheer downtown this Christmas season.

Businesses, charities and university officials are pitching in to brighten the city’s trees with lights and to put on a series of holiday events aimed at drawing people downtown.

“It’s just great to see the life that continues to grow along Old Falls Street,” said John Percy, president and chief executive of the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp.

Percy said the events – and the new Culinary Institute Niagara Falls – are one part of the city’s plan to draw more visitors in winter, when hotel occupancy rates drop more than 50 percent.

“That’s our biggest opportunity to grow business here, to fill in that winter gap,” Percy said. “Once the Maid [of the Mist] comes out of the water, it really does dry up.”

Shortly after last year’s holiday market, organizers said the event would not take place again this year. The much-touted winter festival became a political hot topic after it required more than $400,000 in public funds to operate.

Other events have been proposed, though, to fill the void.

Residents and off-season tourists already have noticed the stream of lighting that stretches from Niagara Falls State Park to the Seneca Niagara Casino.

All trees in the three-block stretch of Old Falls Street between the two tourism anchors are now fully lit with displays resembling those from the popular lights festival.

The street will serve as a sort of holiday central for residents looking for a reason to come downtown to enjoy a view of the falls in all their winter glory.

“Old Falls Street USA is going to illuminate all of its 96 trees like never before,” Ryan Coate, general manager of the Conference & Event Center, said in a statement.

Global Spectrum, hired by the USA Niagara Development Corp. to bring activity to the street, has already hosted an outdoor concert and a Breakfast with Santa to kick off the holiday season.

Next up is the city’s annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 745 Main St.

The event, branded with the theme “Historical Holidays in Niagara Falls,” will feature live music, the tree-lighting ceremony and refreshments.

Three days later, a caroling youth chorus from the Niagara Falls schools will join city officials on a Holly Trolley, which will make eight stops throughout the community.

The trolley – provided by the NFTA – will travel from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday to Centennial Circle, the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center and Schoellkopf Park, Columbus Park, Gill Creek Park, LaSalle-Foley’s Park, the Highland Community Revitalization Committee, the 18th Street Resource Center and Cenotaph Park Main Street.

Before the trolley riders greet residents, employees in the downtown area are asked to donate nonperishable food items to benefit Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier.

The donations of food and warm winter clothing will be collected from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls on Old Falls Street and at the trolley stops.

Fans of the popular Niagara Falls Blues Festival will also get a chance to hear their favorite sounds before the summer event.

This year marks the debut of Blues Christmas on Old Falls Street, a winter version of the blues show. The proceeds will benefit the summer concerts.

The Dec. 14 show will be held from 6:30 to 11 p.m. in the Cataract Room of the Conference & Event Center. For tickets, call 278-2100.

Downtown’s newest tourist attraction will also get in on the holiday fun.

The Culinary Institute Niagara Falls, located in the former Rainbow Centre mall, will host holiday activities from today through Christmas Eve.

Children can have their photograph taken with Santa Claus in the culinary school’s gingerbread house from 6 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, 1 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays and noon to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The school will also offer cookie decorating, story reading, holiday movies, chef and horticulture demonstrations and an ice carving competition.

Old Falls Street isn’t the only place residents can see the holiday lights in Niagara.

The United Way of Greater Niagara has kicked off its annual Holiday Lights of Niagara Trail, which includes more than 60 illuminated displays throughout the city.

The lights trail begins at Hyde Park Boulevard and extends down Pine Avenue and Main Street toward downtown and the state park.

The Seneca Niagara Casino has also gotten into the holiday spirit, donating $15,000 to the downtown lighting and stringing red and green snowflake lights displays across the pedestrian bridge where its property connects with Old Falls Street.

The casino will also host seven Christmas concerts with Wayne Newton from Dec. 5 to 9 at its Seneca Niagara Events Center.

email: cspecht@buffnews.com