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Albion Village Board asked to make decision on Santa site

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 March 2016 at 12:00 am

Betterment Committee wants statue, ‘Christmas Park’ on Main Street

Clark Patterson Lee has put together this conceptual plan for a memorial site for Charles Howard, the Albion native who developed an influential Santa Claus School. This spot is on Main Street between the Presbyterian Church and a parking lot next to El Gallo.

ALBION – The Albion Betterment Committee has been working more than a year on a memorial site in honor of Charles Howard, the Albion native who developed the first Santa Claus School. Howard started the school in 1937 and operated it until his death on May 1, 1966.

The school has since been relocated to Michigan, but still bears Howard’s name. Howard is a revered figure in the Santa Claus community. More than 200 men who portray Santa Claus came to a conference in Albion last April. Many of those visitors were surprised there wasn’t a site commemorating Howard’s importance in shaping how Santa should act and look.

The Albion Betterment Committee last December had a welcome sign installed on Route 98, south of the village, noting Albion is home of Charles Howard. An interpretive panel about Howard’s legacy was also put up at Mount Albion Cemetery by Albion Central School students.

Bronze sculptor Bill Koch has submitted this design for a statue of Charles Howard as Santa. Brigden Memorials in Albion also is interested in the project.

The Betterment Committee wants a bronze statue of Howard on Main Street. The group also wants a new building on Main Street that would function as a year-round visitor center and could also be leased out to a business for a coffee shop/bakery/ice cream stand/merchandise.

“This community would come together for the Santa House, the statue and history in general,” Gary Kent, a director for the Betterment Committee, told the Village Board on Wednesday.

Kent said the Betterment Committee has an appeal letter ready, and plans to follow up with phone calls to about 270 people already identified as potential donors.

Kent noted that May 1 is the 50th anniversary of Howard’s death and the Betterment Committee wants to push this year for the projects to honor one of Albion’s most famous native sons. For more on Howard, click here.

Kent asked the Village Board to make a decision soon about the village-owned land by the Presbyterian Church. The Betterment Committee is eyeing the spot where a building, last used by DaLisa’s Pizzeria, stood before the structure was knocked down about five years ago.

The board at the time say the site as a spot for more downtown parking. The land hasn’t been paved or turned into additional parking.

This spot next to the Presbyterian Church is considered by the Albion Betterment Committee as the preferential location for a Santa statue and building resembling Charles Howard’s Christmas Park in Albion. (If the project moves forward, the hitching posts and carriage step would be relocated.)

Kent said the site looks big enough for a 1,200-square-foot building that could be a Santa House, resembling Howard’s famed Christmas Park on Phipps Road in Albion.

The Betterment Committee has looked at other sites in the community for the project, but wants it downtown “for the maximum impact in the village,” Kent said.

Kent has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for 24 years. He said volunteers would likely help build a Santa House. He also has reached out to electricians and contractors, who are interested in donating their time.

“We could get this done for zero dollars,” Kent told the board.

This historic photo shows one of the buildings from Charles Howard’s Christmas Park and Santa Claus School. The Betterment Committee wants to replicate some of the looks from Christmas Park in a new site on Main Street.

The Santa statue, however, could cost $80,000 to $100,000. State grants and money from the Santa community, who hold Howard in high regard, could help fund the project.

Village Board members said they want to check with downtown merchants to gauge their opinion of the project, whether it would be worth sacrificing parking for a statue and Santa House. Mayor Dean London said the board would make a decision at its March 23 meeting.

Trustee Gary Katsanis said he favors the statue and Santa House in the downtown, where it would be a draw and likely boost business for other merchants.

Trustee Stan Farone said there could be other spots for the project, perhaps on Liberty Street.

Trustee Pete Sidari said the Santa site should be on Main Street. He just wants to make sure the village doesn’t have a parking shortage in the downtown for other businesses.