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Hales Corners — The China Lights festival at Boerner Botanical Gardens, which ended Nov. 6, as a huge success, drawing in twice as many people as the organizers first expected.

Though they do not yet have final numbers for the number of tickets sold, Bob Wernicke, chief marketing officer of Festival Productions, said that over 100,000 tickets were sold for the month-long event.

Weekends were particularly successful for the festival. Some Saturdays, almost 8,000 people visited Boerner.

"We were hoping that we could get a weekend crowd of about 3,000," Wernicke said. "Well, we blew through that real easy."

Initially, the planners had thought that the event would be successful if they sold around 50,000 tickets total.

Money for Boerner

Not only would that number of attendees cover the cost to put on the festival, but earn some money for the Milwaukee County Parks.

Though they do not have a final profit total yet, Milwaukee County Parks officials have already decided that a large chunk of the profit will go straight back to Boerner Botanical Gardens.

"(With the profit) we want to make a lot of improvements to Boerner," said Susie Devcich, chief of recreation and business operations, noting that a 2015 audit determined that some parts of the park have fallen into disrepair.

"Now what we're trying to do is be able to put this money into helping with needed repairs to the facility," Devcich said.

New visitors 

While the profits from China Lights will be valuable to the parks system, Devcich said that she was also glad to see that China Lights drew new visitors to the gardens.

Devcich estimated, by polling visitors, that approximately 50 percent of China Lights attendees had not previously been to Boerner.

"In our eyes, that was awesome because we are exposing people to a facility and we hope that they'll come back during the summer or sometime to have a different experience," Devcich said.

While half of visitors were newly experiencing the botanical gardens, nearly everyone was experiencing the Chinese lantern festival for the first time, as well, since the event was the first of its kind to come to the Midwest.

Again next year?

Due to its popularity, Wernicke said the county is already working on a plan to host China Lights again next year at Boerner.

China Lights 2017 will likely begin two weeks earlier than this year's festival, starting in mid-September.

Though a few of the main lanterns will remain the same, such as the 200-foot long dragon and the Chinese pagoda, most of the other lanterns will be changed to create a new experience for repeat visitors.

Wernicke mentioned they are working to commission a Statue of Liberty lantern for next year's festival, as well.

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