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Should the Rick Newman Show move to FAU?

"The Rick Newman Show" has to be one of Boca's "best kept secrets." The annual light and display shows go up every Halloween and Christmas in front of Newman's house at 699 NW 9th Ave, behind the Boca Raton mall, and they've become a holiday tradition for thousands of people in the area.

 My family and I are among those people who enjoy the show and I've been several times. one time during Christmas I actually got to speak to the man himself and he explained a little bit about his background. From what I remember, before he retired Newman used to coordinate the light shows for big concerts and festivals, so the displays in his front yard typically involve a number of animatronics, inflatables, flashing lights and even a "snow" blower machine. He's put a lot of time and money into the presentation and it shows. Newman uses a computer program that costs about $5,000 to sync various songs that can be heard on a dedicated AM station. Crowds gather to enjoy the show, which runs on a loop about 30-45 minutes long. A special basket outside asks for donations to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Unfortunately, his neighbors seem to have a problem with the show every year. Newman is constantly having to fight the police and his neighbors to keep the show going and at one point the City Council itself was asked to intervene, although they ultimately ruled in favor of the show. To be honest, it's not that difficult to see where they're coming from: for as great as the show is, and what it means to the community, it's still a corner house in a residential neighborhood that's drawing big crowds. People like us have to drive over and either block the street or park on other people's lawns, which no doubt can ruin the grass. The lights, though they're not constant, could beam into your living room until 10:30 at night. Because the music plays on a radio station, and the even is outside, people tend to turn it up in their car and roll the windows down so everyone on the street can hear it. That doesn't always happen, of course, but you could see why it would bother people when it did.

So as much as people like this, you have to wonder how many more years Newman is willing to fight against the neighbors over this. It would be a shame to see something this wonderful disappear from Boca altogether simply because it's too popular for its location.

I wonder if Newman would consider moving this show to a better location - say a large university down the street that is basically immune from City intervention - where he wouldn't be hassled about it anymore? This would be a win-win for FAU, since it would bring the community to campus, thus increasing its visibility and helping to further cement the university as the cultural epicenter of the city.

So if the RNS did come here, where would it go? My first thought would be the outdoor field behind the Student Union. That creates an area that could be opened and closed by gates, it has plenty of bushes and open space for the different pieces of the show, it has electrical access (because Program Board holds concerts back there) and it's obviously used to handling thousands of people. Furthermore, it's much easier to direct people in the community there as opposed to, say, the Campus Green by SO; he could put up a sign in his yard saying, "See the Rick Newman Show, now behind the FAU Student Union!" No irritated neighbors, no yards being destroyed, no roads being blocked and no cops serving noise violations. Just plenty of parking and good cheer all around.

The only downside, of course, is that it takes up that space so student organizations can't use it from October through December. Would FAU, particularly Program Board, want to give up a space like that for three months? Well, let's be honest: there's very little that you can do in there that you absolutely can't do somewhere else on campus. I've seen shows with electronic components done on the Housing Quad and the Campus Green. And half the concerts held back there get moved inside to the Barry Kaye Auditorium anyway (where they should be). So are we really losing that much? Doubt it. I think the trade-off would be worth it.

Other universities certainly reap the benefits of holiday displays/shows. The most poignant example that comes to mind is Light Up UCF, an event created to drive more traffic to their Knights Plaza area and encourage vendors that have setup shop there (the businesses there aren't doing so hot). This event has holiday lights, an "ice" skating rink, film festival and carnival. It's a really great idea and looks to be very successful.

I'm not saying FAU has to go full-bore on this with a ferris wheel and everything. I'm just saying that something like this is a great way to create good vibes toward the community, from current students to retirees who have never set foot on campus. Even if the Newman Show doesn't ever come here, we can start small and do up Diversity Way like Columbia University does along College Walk:

Picture via Rufusowliebat of Flickr (Creative Commons use)
...or maybe do something in the plaza between the Alumni Center and the Rec Center. That's a high traffic area, and it could lead over to the new basketball arena when it's built next to the stadium (whenever that happens). Both football and basketball run from October through December, so the Innovation Village plaza could be a great place for that - like UCF did with Knights Plaza - especially when the stores open as the ground floor retail of Parking Garage 3.

And the beauty of light displays is that you can build it up over time. You don't have to start with hundreds of thousands of lights and animatronics. You can buy more and more over time. In fact, maybe the FAU Alumni Office could send out an email saying this is something we want to do, so bring us your old Christmas lights! And then once we have them, students could help string up the lights - kind of like they would do at home, only here, now, at FAU... their home away from home.



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