New Orleans City Park’s popular holiday lights show, Celebration in the Oaks, will return as a driving tour this winter as the park works to generate revenue amid coronavirus restrictions. 

The show, a glowing spectacle of animals, tree-hangings, holiday characters and other displays stationed throughout the park, draws tens of thousands of residents each year to the illuminated Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and New Orleans Botanical Garden.

In recent years, visitors experienced the hundreds of thousands of lights by walking through the grounds of the amusement park and gardens, or taking a two-mile miniature train ride.

But amid restrictions and closures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, park officials said they would bring back the driving tour that was popular prior to Hurricane Katrina. It was scrapped after the storm.

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The change is aimed at making a New Orleans holiday tradition that spans three decades safe for residents, park CEO Bob Becker said last week.

The fundraiser combined with other events usually held in the last three months of the year typically generate more than a third of the park’s annual revenue. The park is hoping to recoup at least some of that through the driving tour. 

Despite widespread use of the park after coronavirus restrictions limited other recreational activity, City Park has limped along financially amid the pandemic, as weddings, galas and other events the park would normally book have declined. What’s more, large events routinely held on the park’s grounds have been canceled. 

City Park is seeking $5 million from the state Legislature to help it stay afloat financially. The park expects to run through its $2.1 million reserve by mid-2021 if no such help comes. 

A quick glance these days at New Orleans City Park might suggest a thriving public space.