MESA, AZ - The City of Mesa has replaced a Christmas tree that was destroyed by an arsonist earlier this month.
Mesa Firefighters were called to the city’s “Merry Main Street” festival location where they found the tree essentially burned to the ground on December 13.
The lighted tree is the focal point of the city's annual Christmas celebration along Main Street. An ice rink opens nightly to skaters and on weekends there is a shopping market and free visits with Santa Claus.
The tree-lighting ceremony was held on Nov. 24.
Mesa police said 34-year-old Samuel Antone Johnson was found in the area and admitted to setting the tree on fire with matches. Police said Johnson did not provide a motive.
The $40,000 tree was sponsored in 2016 by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and "more than a dozen private businesses," the city said in a news release. The Chamber posted a fundraising link online to replace the tree, and came up with enough donations to do so on Monday.
The City and Chamber also announced a "season of giving" partnership with the United Food Bank taking place this Friday at the Merry Main Street Christmas Tree. Those attending Merry Main Street and coming down to check out the new tree can receive a special $2 off discount coupon for ice skating at the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink when they bring four cans or packages of non-perishable food to donate at the tree.
"We are excited to be partnering with the City and Chamber and to be at Merry Main Street." United Food Bank CEO David Richins said. "This is a time of year that we have many needs and it is also a time of year that people tend to think of others. We encourage everyone to come check out the new tree and donate to help others during the holidays."
Merry Main Street will have the Christmas Market, Christmas Tree and Photos with Santa along with programming on the Community Stage on north Macdonald; the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink at City Plaza and Jack Frost's Food Truck Forest at Pioneer Park this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 22 and 23 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.