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Published: Thursday, 1/9/2003

The future of `Wonderland'

It's impossible to know how many people actually visited the store-window version of Children's Wonderland downtown over the holidays, but it couldn't have been more than a tiny fraction of the 65,000 who viewed the 40-year-old exhibit in each of the past three years at the Lucas County Recreation Center.

In fact, if the county commissioners had intended to kill off Wonderland, they would have done exactly what they did.

Downtown Toledo is gradually regaining some of its vitality, but Christmas displays in 50 scattered storefronts obviously did not draw well, even though they were free. Not the first place you'd think of to take the kids in the cold of winter.

It appears that the recreation center in its suburban location is a more popular site, although commissioners will want to carefully weigh whether it might not be time to pack up the exhibit for good. Some of the displays are a bit timeworn and don't have quite the same pizzazz as, say, the Toledo Zoo's dazzling “Lights before Christmas.” But at least Wonderland was inside the warm confines of the Rec Center.

In any event, canceling the December public exposition to ease the county's budget crunch didn't save nearly the $100,000 officials predicted. Wonderland cost the county $75,000 in 1999 and $87,000 in 2000, but only $28,000 in 2001.

Maggie Thurber and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, the two new members of the board of commissioners, seem to believe that Wonderland retains substantial residual goodwill in and around Toledo. Ms. Thurber's idea of seeking corporate sponsorships is worth pursuing, and could be just the ticket for this community tradition to again become a paying proposition.

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