While the city of Auburn has decked the streets in wreaths and lights for the holidays, staff of the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center have been working to spread their festive spirit inside, assembling an elaborate showcase of notable buildings around town – in gingerbread form.
The 2018 village stands out from previous versions of the confectionery village because it was named one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events in the region for the month of December.
“We put this event up there because if you come here on any day you’ll see families come in here as a holiday tradition,” said Todd Scholl, director of sales marketing for the hotel. “It’s really a cool thing for families to do and it kinda kicks off the holidays for a lot of people.”
Groundwork for the gingerbread village began to take shape two weeks prior to its public appearance Dec. 9.
Various teams of employees throughout the hotel, such as housekeeping, sales and chefs of the Ariccia Trattoria restaurant, were each given assignments for which buildings they were in charge of. They were left with their own creative freedom to craft as they wished each structure.
Auburn building science students assisted the hotel employees in how to structure the buildings. Then it was up to the employees to handle the rest of the design work.
The landmarks featured in the annual display change each year. This time around the newest addition is the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center. There were also construction sites portrayed in the village as a tribute to the ongoing projects throughout the University.
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“As new buildings come onto campus, if they’re of a significant stature then we will put them into this display," Scholl said. "You can see next to the hotel there’s actually a construction site for the parking ramp that’s going up next year. That was a little playful take on the construction that’s happening all around campus.”
He predicted that next year’s village will include the Culinary Science Center which is targeted as beginning construction in spring 2019.
Assistant restaurant manager Sarah Barkley built much of the Performing Arts Center’s dessert rendition on her own. She said it took approximately 40 hours of work over the course of a week to complete, a far cry from the summer 2019 date set for the real Performing Arts Center.
“We were working off just a picture, so that was the first obstacle we came across,” Barkley said. “[Another obstacle] was trying to get how it was going to be modern, because it’s a very modern structure and all the other buildings on campus are more historical and more brick structures.”
She also acknowledged her use of fondant on the building and the choice of the lack of candy as other important decisions involved in making the Center. The structure won a small competition among other gingerbread structures in this year's village, which was judged by members of the Auburn Downtown Merchants Association.
Some other prominent sights of the Auburn-Opelika area present in the gingerbread village are Samford Hall, Storybook Farm, the AU Chapel and the President’s House, which was formed twice for both the village and its own spotlight in the actual house.
Approximately 300 pounds of gingerbread were used in its creation, which was spread over 50 sheet pans, Barkley said.
“I’m always into crafting and do-it-yourself stuff so this kinda gave me an outlet to do it here instead of at home spending money on my own house,” Barkley said.
The Auburn Gingerbread Village was revealed to the public in the hotel’s foyer on Dec. 9, attracting throngs of viewers both young and old with hot cocoa, apple cider and remnants of candy that wasn't used on the village.
With an estimated attendance that was upwards of 1,000 people flooding in from the preceding Auburn Christmas Parade, the line to witness the confectionery community grew as time went on. Choral singers from Auburn United Methodist Church also sang Jingle Bells at a later point in the reveal.
The Auburn Gingerbread Village will remain in the hotel foyer for public access until Jan. 1, and will continue to be free for public viewing.
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