Hearne: The Country Club Plaza’s Last Big Lie

Put up or shut up…

Seven years back Waldo businessman Gary Evert brought operators of the Country Club Plaza and KCP&L to their collective knees. By counting the Plaza Lights Thanksgiving night crowd for the first time, Evert and UMKC math and statistics professor Yong Zeng put the kibosh on a long held popular belief that more than a quarter million people attended the event.

However the Plaza and KCP&L have continued to claim that the holiday lights strung – if laid end-to-end – would stretch from Kansas City to Sedalia.

And while local news media have every reason to be skeptical given the companies track record for fudging numbers, the claim continues to be repeated by everyone from clueless local Web sites to the Kansas City Star.

"Today, electricians hang 80 miles of wire with more than 280,000 lights," Star reporters Laura Bauer and Mark Davis wrote last week.


Bauer and Davis forgot to check the Star‘s clips library. If they had, they’d have seen that Evert actually counted the lights a few years back.

Evert calls the "estimate" that the lights stretch 80 miles and number more than 280,000 an urban legend.

"I heard KCP&L senior vice president James Shay state that ‘statistic’ last night on the KCTV5 broadcast," Evert emailed Channel 5 on Friday.  "I’m sure that Mr. Shay as a representative of KCPL and The Star do not intentionally misreport these numbers but are just continuing to pass down the myth.

"In 2006 I took on the task of performing an actual count of the lights and a calculation of the length of the light cord. I have attached an MS Excel spreadsheet documenting my findings and the modalities used to support them. Even if my count of 46,322 lights and calculation of 13.82 miles of cord is off by an unlikely margin of 20% there is absolutely no justification for the publicly stated numbers."

Got that?

There are only  46,322 lights spanning 13.82 miles on the Plaza. Not 280,000 and 80 miles.

Making the grand total of the Plaza Lights Last Big Lie off by more than 200,000 bulbs and 66 miles.

Evert’s methodology:

"The count was sectioned into blocks," he explains. "On the strings of mixed colors, a specific color was selected, counted and multiplied by the number of colors and then the number of strings. On towers the number of lights on one face was counted and then multiplied by the number of faces. When only a single color existed each light was counted and, where applicable, was multiplied by the number of duplicate areas (example, the Hall’s Building).                   

"The distance between lights was measured in selected areas and variances were taken into consideration as well as an estimate of ‘unlighted’ cord (5% of total) to calculate the length of cord. A very liberal estimate of
18" average length of distance distance between bulbs was assigned to the calculation."

Columnist insert: Does anybody actually believe the good old boys the Plaza hires to string these babies or the suits at Highwoods ever went through such a calculation?

That said, there’s little doubt they could easily set this record straight. They have to purchase the strings and bulbs from somewhere. So clearly, as was the case with the phoney crowd counts, they choose not to.

Why organizations like the Star mindlessly play along is another matter.

Other than it’s easy and sounds sexy, I guess. And let the record show I’m actually doing the reporters a favor by not calling for a comment, embarrassing them and putting them on the spot.

While at the newspaper I tried to pin down the stringing company but was told they were forbidden from addressing the subject. Question is, why?

Is the only way to sell the Plaza Lights schmooze to lie? Why not just come clean – is KC so small-time insecure?

Evert’s take: "The Plaza Lights are internationally recognized Kansas City treasure. For eight weeks each year the actual number of lights that reflect in the eyes of the men, women and children who are fortunate enough to view them in person, need not be exaggerated to make the event enormously meaningful."

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5 Responses to Hearne: The Country Club Plaza’s Last Big Lie

  1. harley says:

    come one… come all
    For gosh sakes hearne…beside you and some guy who has nothing
    beter to do than count people and lites noone cares.
    It is really an incredible sight…and while kc residents take if for
    granted outsiders and vissitors love it.
    So don’t ever exxagerate or misqoute anything hearne. Give it a
    break….go enjoy the holiday with the twins…smile…have some fun…
    maybe take maria back to the plaza and show her some fun times
    instead of hanging out in a parking garage. Not real romantic with all
    the car fumes.
    It’s the holidays…and theres nothing like the plaza during xmas.
    Stop being scrooge…and whether its a billion lites or 24,000 lites
    who cares….take the kids and enjoy the plaza…it’s our one symbol that
    really "shines"….
    so stop "bah humbugging"….get maria a gift so she stops being so
    negative….take tony down there and get him in the holiday spirit…
    and have some fun….i seriously doubt that the major media in this
    town take you and your writings seriously.

  2. harley says:

    we want more hall
    seems like hall’s writings have fallen off….he’s got a great
    column and he’s a great target but its really fun to read his
    takes. Stop making non experts like glazer and kurtis out to be
    like hall. At least hall has experience writing for the platte county

  3. hearne says:

    Sniffing the fumes, huh?
    Actually, it was Highwoods (the Plaza’s owner) who roped off part of the Halls roof for a VIP Plaza Lights viewing bash. So in their opinion, that was the place to be that night. Sorry you didn’t get an invite – neither did we.

    As for conducting another crowd count, it was UMKC who came to KC Confidential wanting to count the lights again because they were wearied by the bogus media crowd claims. Why lie about it?

    Oh and trust me, Maria got in plenty of partying before and after the hour and a half of crowd counting. Don’t sell Gary, Tony, the students and me short either. We all had great holidays. Even while busting the Plaza and local media for over-hyping an event tha’t – as you point out – needn’t be over hyped!

  4. harley says:

    based on the comments
    here…noone cares.
    You took a strong website an have reduced it to just another blog.
    I counted all the comments from the last 2 months and noticed
    a 50% reduction in reader participation. I didt nt do that but it
    appears your articles are getting stale and the number ofcomments
    is going down.
    go back to what maded this site fun….get more people who know what
    theyre talking about to write articles…how about politics/local gov/
    someone under 60 to discuss the nightlife in kc/more interesting
    articles about people…like the 2 women who just sold out for 650 million/
    the stor on the kid killed in iraq….theres so muc more than glazer writing
    about sports which he knows nothing bout or tony depressing everyone…
    come on hearne….you can do much better…..you complained about the
    star and its content and now your website’s content is really getting
    bad. We know you can do better….prove to us that you can do something
    on your own.

  5. Johnny Utah says:

    Why lie on little things?
    Why would local media lie about little things like how many people attend the plaza lights and number of lights? I say b/c they’re not committed to truth. they’re committed to attention. whatever gets them attention gets reported. and whatever doesn’t fit their liberal view of the city, doesn’t make it. If local media won’t expose the little lies, someone else has to. Thanks hearne.

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