Naperville Sunrise Rotarians and volunteers set up the First Annual Naper Lights, which will shine 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays 28 through Dec. 31 in Central Park. (Rich Cullen, Handout)

Naperville's Central Park will be a dazzling spot for revelers this holiday season thanks to thousands of sparkling lights.

About 16,000 lights, that is.

The First Annual Naper Lights, a new holiday light display in downtown Naperville, debuts Thursday. It's a project by Naperville Sunrise Rotary Club members, who conceived and assembled the combination of merry displays.

"Downtown Naperville during the holidays is a special place," said John Colucci, Naper Lights co-chair. "The city is aglow with lighted trees and festive displays in the stores. Our goal is to add to this festive spirit in a free, family-friendly manner; our hope is to make this a tradition in the years ahead."

As for this literally bright idea, the Rotarians were inspired after visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights in Chicago last year.

"In checking, we found in many cities across the country there are unique holiday lighting displays that are either publicly funded or sponsored by a service or charitable organization," Colucci said. "With Naperville Sunrise Rotary club being a spirited and forward-looking organization, we decided this is the perfect project that will tingle the senses and also provide funding in our efforts to raise funds for youth services and activities. It will also serve as a vehicle to further the mission of Rotary International in doing good in the world."

Admission is free, and the cheer-filled displays will shine 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31. All of Central Park will be converted into what organizers dub a "Christmas light extravaganza" including four large displays, while the park itself will be decorated with wrapped tree trunks and other holiday elements.

"Take a leisurely walk through the park and relax among the festive holiday displays," Colucci said. "On some nights there will be strolling carolers or other musicians."

Complimentary hot chocolate and mulled cider will be offered Friday and Saturday evenings as well.

Of course, coordinating this project was more complicated than stringing lights and plugging in extension cords.

"Site selection was challenging in that we wanted to create a festive environment," Colucci said. "Working with the City and Naperville and the Naperville Park District, we settled on Central Park as it is a convenient location with easy access and pedestrian-friendly. Since this is offered free to the public, finding sponsors and other sources of revenue were difficult."

The Rotarians will be accepting donations and sponsorships, said Geoff Roehll, Naper Lights co-chair. Proceeds will benefit Naperville Sunrise Rotary community projects supporting the needs of youth, young adults and families as well as youth leadership initiatives in the local community, DuPage County and Internationally.

Planners hope this year is just the bright beginning for Naper Lights.

"This is the first holiday lighting display in this area, and we hope to expand it in the years ahead to include more displays," Colucci said. "We also would like to add other locations in the future."