On her daily commute home from her job in King of Prussia, Rachel Riley regularly drives east on 422 and recently noticed a mysterious traffic slowdown, always in the same spot just north of Valley Forge.
The right side of the highway overlooks the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center’s fairgrounds, where workers have been assembling 1.2 million lights into a new, five-acre seasonal attraction: the Tinseltown Holiday Spectacular, featuring towering illuminated holiday sculptures and a 10,000 square foot ice rink.
“Even not lit, people are, like, ‘Wait a second, what is that?’” said Riley, who works for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. “You can tell the traffic slows and you see people looking over trying to take pictures with their cell phone.”
Immediately after passing the expo center, she says traffic speeds up again.
“This show is literally going to stop traffic on the highway,” said Riley.
Tinseltown will light up evenings from Black Friday to Jan 2. The debut holiday attraction is essentially a winter fair, with food and drink vendors, shopping at the Mistletoe Marketplace (featuring vendors like J&A Custom Creations, Jordan Spector Art, Philly Nuts, Pretzelforia, and the Faiya Company), acres of immense LED light tableaus, and skating on synthetic ice — a polymer surface that can be skated with standard blades, but does not require freezing temperatures.
The attraction was created by Spectacor Events and Entertainment, a new arm of Comcast Spectacor, the company that owns the Wells Fargo Center and the Philadelphia Flyers, that launched during the coronavirus pandemic to develop public attractions.
Last winter, Spectacor piloted a walk-through, outdoor holiday event in the parking lot of the Wells Fargo Center, complying with COVID-19 prevention protocols, called Winter on Broad.
“It was very successful, well-attended, and generated revenue for the company at a time when no events and entertainment businesses were really operating,” said Emily Dunham, senior vice president of Spectacor Events. “They decided that this was a part of the business that they could really develop, and that we could be doing this post-pandemic as well.”
Spectacor then developed a summer event last August, a roller skating attraction inside the Wells Fargo Center.
Tinseltown Spectacle is an expansion of the Winter on Broad Street concept, brought to the Expo Center fairground because the arena parking lot in South Philly is now being used for sporting events.
Riley said the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board pitched Spectacor the idea of staging Tinseltown in Oaks, which has previously held large-scale events, such as Cirque du Soleil, because its proximity to the highway and the King of Prussia Mall would make it attractive to families in Montgomery County and visitors from outside the region.
And Montco could use a traffic stopper this holiday season, as last year the pandemic took a big bite out of its tourism and entertainment sector. The county saw a 40% decline in visitor spending, from 2019’s $1.65 billion down to $973 million, according to the VFTCB 2021 annual report. Hotel room revenue declined by 50%.
“Last year it was, ‘Everybody stay home. We can’t get together. It’s not healthy, it’s not safe, etc.,’” said Riley. “This year, I feel like there’s more hope. There’s more optimism and encouragement. I think folks are going to be getting out there, reuniting, celebrating together, and making up for that lost time over the last year that we weren’t able to have fun, let loose, relax, and enjoy.”
Tinseltown joins Montco’s roster of holiday-themed special attractions, like the extravagant light displays of Wild Lights at the Elmwood Park Zoo, the steam train rides of Colebrookdale Railroad, and the Holiday Bricktacular at Legoland. The Tourism and Convention Board has packaged hotel and attraction discounts into a tourism bundle.
Tinseltown welcomes dogs one evening a week for “Waggin’ Wednesdays.” Many elements are designed to encourage selfies and photo moments, such as a life-size, illuminated bust of Gritty. Gritty himself is scheduled to be there in person on Thursdays.
Dunham said Spectacor is in the process of developing other attractions for spring and summer 2022. Those details are still to come.
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