In 1994-95, the Tempe Visitors and Convention Bureau wanted to create an event to bring tourists into downtown during the holiday season. Fellow KCOT members Mayor Neil Giuliano, and Councilmembers Joseph Lewis and Linda Spears attended a League of Cities conference in Minneapolis during November. The city had a lighted holiday parade every night leading up to Christmas, and the three KCOT'ers decided it would be cool to bring that to Tempe. The concept for the Fantasy of Lights Parade was born. Having a parade in downtown Tempe every night was not feasible, so they decided to have a parade coincide with the City Christmas tree lighting downtown.
Linda Spears enlisted the help of KCOT to produce the event. It was called The Kiwanis Club of Tempe Fantasy of Lights Parade. In the first years, the entries were very sparse with Boy and Girl Scout troops marching; City utility vehicles, including police and fire were all involved. Only a couple of commercial entries participated at that time. KCOT charged $50 for commercial entries and $25 for everyone else, but other than commercial, people could donate canned food in lieu of payment. Linda worked to secure a title sponsor for $500 that paid for participant awards - KCOT gave awards for best use of lights, most creative, best commercial, and best community effort. The Kiwanis Club of Tempe continued to produce the event for about eight more years.
The original parade route was from the Red River Opry (now Marquee Theater) over the bridge, down Mill Avenue to 7th Street. Santa Claus brought up the rear of the parade, and was let out at the City Christmas tree at Centerpoint. Eventually, the parade route was changed, and staged at the 3rd Street parking lot (Tempe Mission Palms). The parade proceeded from 3rd Street, down Mill Avenue past 5th Street. However, the development of the light rail made that route unusable. Once again it was moved, with staging on Ash, between 5th and 3rd Streets; the route proceeds and turns East on 3rd Street then down Mill Avenue to 7th Street, and then back to 5th & Ash for deployment of participants.
Today, the Downtown Tempe Authority has ownership of the parade - managing parade entries and the presenting sponsor. The Kiwanis Club of Tempe is still involved in the parade it ushered into Tempe tradition by providing the manpower needed to get the parade moving, and carry out parade logistics under the direction of Russ Plieseis.
For several years KCOT had a float it would display in the parade, but it was stolen from the lot where it was stored a few years ago. The electric float was a gingerbread house on a flatbed trailer. Whenever funds allow, KCOT would eventually like to again have an entry in the Fantasy of Lights Parade.
Linda Spears continues to serve as a Parade Marshall for the holiday parade she implemented two decades ago.
For more information about this holiday tradition, please visit our friends as Downtown Tempe Authority: