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Celebrity guest, national media attention expected to draw large crowds this weekend



SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Portland residents and employees of M Realty Katie Dalziel, Jazmine Bird, Jenna Montgomery and Tabitha Pocino, pose with a scarecrow outside the historic Columbia Theater. The group visited St. Helens on Monday, Oct. 5 to shoot video for a promotional newsletter for their company and said businesses around the city seemed to be getting in the spirit of Halloween with their decorations. After the city of St. Helens garnered national media attention for its role in an iconic Disney film, the city will welcome one of the film’s actresses to its Spirit of Halloweentown pumpkin lighting ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Record crowds are expected as actress Kimberly Brown, who played the young witch “Marnie” in Disney’s Halloweentown, serves as the master of ceremonies at the pumpkin lighting ceremony in the courthouse plaza.

Tina Curry, a St. Helens resident, was contracted by the city of St. Helens as the executive organizer for Spirit of Halloweentown events. Curry said she had been trying to arrange a visit from Brown for nearly three years. Curry said when St. Helens suddenly began getting national media attention, it set the ball rolling and she was able to get in touch with Brown’s agent, Diane Yslas.

“We’re so excited that people are so excited,” Diane Yslas, Brown’s agent, said. “It’s bigger than we would’ve expected.”

Brown gained mass public attention when she announced in a YouTube video in late September she would visit St. Helens. Event attendees in costume will be able to take a large group photo with Brown during the lighting ceremony.

City Councilor Susan Conn said the pumpkin lighting ceremony seems to grow year after year, but this year’s event will likely have a much bigger turnout.

After the ceremony, individuals who signed up and paid will be able to take personal photos with Brown, an event Curry set up. Individuals who preregistered and paid roughly $10 per person online will be asked to line up during a specified time period to get to meet Brown in a one-on-one setting.

The 120 spots were available for sale Saturday, Oct. 3, at $10 per person, and were sold out by Wednesday, Oct. 7.

City Administrator John Walsh said the city allocated a $5,000 materials budget for various Spirit of Halloweentown events, but the $1,500 contract for Brown’s appearance and $1,955 expenses for lodging and travel expenses were an additional cost. Money raised from the photo shoot will help cover the cost of Brown’s visit. Curry has also started online t-shirt sales as an additional fundraiser.

“The amount of money the city is putting into this is an indication that they want to make Halloween a (holiday) destination for St. Helens,” Curry said.

Curry said she has answered hundreds of calls, including from visitors traveling from as far away as Florida and New York.

She said she is not surprised considering Halloween’s popularity.

“I think lots of people will travel for that because they love the fall and the ghostly stuff,” Curry said,

Management at Best Western Oak Meadows Inn and America’s Best Value Inn hotels in St. Helens said their hotels are fully booked for Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, but do have some availability during the remainder of October.

Linda Preston, assistant manager of Best Western Oak Meadows Inn, said the hotel has received close to 250 calls in the past month from people looking for rooms to stay during the planned events.

Curry said organizations like St. Helens Economic Development Corp., local business owners, and the city have been pitching in to create more free events for people to participate in. The Spirit of Halloweentown Facebook page and the Discover Columbia County event page have generated almost 1 million new hits over the past six weeks, according to Curry. Walsh said he is nervous about meeting people’s high expectations, especially after being a number one trending topic on Facebook.

Crystal Farnsworth, the communications officer for St. Helens, said she received roughly 10 calls per day asking about events and lodging when Halloweentown, and its connection to St. Helens, became a trending topic on Facebook. Articles from Buzzfeed, 17 Magazine and MTV all aided a national swell of attention from late August through September.

“It’s really exciting that it’s expanding like this,” Conn said. “It’s fun to see St. Helens noticed this way, for something positive.”

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