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Why no tree at Sexton Plaza? Size mattered

If you were among the thousands of local residents who went to Ocean Drive to watch Saturday night’s Vero Beach Christmas Parade, you might’ve noticed something missing at Sexton Plaza.

The Christmas tree.

The city didn’t put one up this year – and, no, it has nothing to do with any of those wacky conspiracy theories about a war on Christmas.

“I can 100-percent assure you,” City Public Works Director Matthew Mitts said last week, “it’s not that.”

Then what is it?

Why isn’t there a tree at the hub of the Ocean Drive business district again this year?

“We had one there last year, but people complained it was too small,” Mitts explained.

“What they didn’t know is that the tree we put up was the biggest one we could fit in that space. The tree goes in front of the Sexton Plaza sign, and there’s just not a lot room there.

“So this year, we didn’t order a tree,” he added. “We decided to try something different.”

Instead of the traditional tree, the city opted for other holiday-season decorations, including what Mitts called “Christmas bears” that have openings in their faces where people, particularly children, can insert their heads for photographs.

Although the city has received a few phone calls from residents wondering why there’s no tree at Sexton Plaza this year, Mitts said the response thus far to the new Christmas decorations has been mostly positive.

“Some people like the interactive component,” he said, adding that there’s little difference in the costs of a tree and the new decorations.

Mitts said the city budgets about $25,000 annually to rent the Christmas decorations needed to create a festive, holiday feel at City Hall, Miracle Mile, Royal Palm Pointe and downtown.

The city does have Christmas trees at City Hall, Pocahontas Park and Royal Palm Pointe.

“We try to do the best we can with what we have,” Mitts said. “We had a tree at Sexton Plaza last year, and if the community wants us to bring back the tree next year, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Al Benkert, president, Oceanside Business Association, said he had no problem with the city’s decision, adding, “We like the fact that the city is listening to people and trying different things.”

Mayor John Cotugno echoed Benkert’s sentiment, applauding Mitts’ willingness to respond to the public and admitting that he hadn’t noticed there was no tree at the plaza until last weekend.

Apparently, he wasn’t alone.

“The only inquiry I received,” Cotugno said, “was someone asking why we don’t have a Christmas tree at Humiston Park.”

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