The founder of a London, Ont. the charity for terminally ill children calls the City of London a ‘Grinch’.
The city has given the TLC Foundation a few weeks to remove Santa’s house from Victoria Park in preparation for the return of the summer festival season.
“We need to get back to that normal arrangement where we have it for the Christmas season and then it’s put away for the summer,” says Scott Stafford, director of parks and forests for the City of London.
Before the pandemic, the 500 square foot structure was taken apart piece by piece with cranes, flatbed trucks and they removed interior panels and wiring.
For the past two years, the city has allowed the building to stand year-round. They will allow him to return as a vendor after Remembrance Day, but the charity’s founder says that is not possible.
“After six years, we’ve come to the idea that it just can’t be taken apart because there’s too much structural damage every time you move it, take it apart and store it,” says Leo Larizza, the founder of TLC. Charitable foundation, which operates the Santa Claus House.
“They asked us to dismantle the house and move it to a warehouse, but unfortunately we can no longer store this house. So that really means the end of Santa’s House unless we can work something out with the town.
Larizza thinks he had some good options to save Santa’s house.
“One is Storybook Gardens and making it a permanent home there,” he says.
“Second, move the house to another area of the park. Three is to leave the house and paint it in the summer, let them use it for their events, and four is to Storybook Gardens but not in the park but outside the park”.
The City had internal discussions, but did not find a solution.
“We talked about a few other locations that might be suitable and might work for them, but again, we’re just at a point where things are kind of going back to where they were before COVID,” says Stafford.
“Storybook has its plan and is also working on a new plan for the future, so we’re just not ready to make those kinds of permanent decisions throughout the year at this point,” he adds.
Although the city recognizes that the location is perfect during the winter months, it believes this affects stage visibility at music events and hinders festivals like Ribfest, Sunfest, and Home County Folk Festival.
Ward 13 County. John Fyfe-Millar representing downtown agrees that the structure should be removed for the summer.
“I think the house itself is a great representative of the festive season, so it’s important that we have something in Victoria Park, and it’s a big draw at the same time,” says Fyfe-Millar.
“However, the original plan for the house was to take it out in the summer, take it back, refurbish it and bring it back. I think it brings back that excitement when you take it out and bring it back. I think that leaving him there permanently was never the goal and never the plan.
However the advice. Paul Van Meerbergen says he will do everything he can to ensure the charity which receives thousands of visitors and has raised over $500,000 for terminally ill children does not come to an end.
“I would love to go back there, meet the staff, meet the downtown ward councilor and Leo,” says Van Meerbergen.
“Let’s see if we can find a reasonable solution here. I mean, it’s really up to the city to find a way to make this magic work and to continue the magic for the kids in particular.
While the town insists it’s not about a Grinch, Larizza thinks that’s exactly what’s going on.
“We gave him so many different options,” says Larizza. “We were hoping that one of them would be chosen, but unfortunately the only one who was chosen was the one who said it might be time for Santa’s house to end.”