An Austrian festive lighting company is buying American Christmas Inc., a holiday decorations company based in Mount Vernon.
MK Illumination USA Inc. is buying the American Christmas property at 30 Warren Place for $11.85 million and the company itself for an undisclosed price.
Klaus Mark, MK’s CEO, announced the pending acquisition to the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency on Feb. 28.
To describe their creations as holiday decorations or festive lighting is to give short shrift to what they do at American Christmas and MK Illumination.
The motto of American Christmas is, “We make the magic.” If you have been to Bloomingdale’s, Cartier, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center or Saks Fifth Avenue during the Christmas season, you’ve probably seen its elaborate exterior lighting and figurative displays of trumpeting angels, reindeer and the yuletide like.
MK creates light sculptures that range from nostalgic holiday themes to abstract or avant-garde displays, small scale to large scale, static to animated. “We create experiences that connect with people’s emotions,” Mark said.
Lighting can make people happy or sad. It can create an atmosphere and shape how people experience a place. It can stimulate sales.
The Salerno, Italy “Festival Del Arte” attributes its success in attracting 4 million visitors a year to MK’s extravagant light installations.
American Christmas describes itself as the premier holiday decoration company in the U.S. Marvin Schwam started the business in 1968 and his son, Frederic, took control in 1988. As business boomed, operations were moved in 2010 from the Bronx to a 2.25-acre site and 110,000-square-foot warehouse and offices in Mount Vernon.
MK started in a garage in Innsbruck, Austria in 1996 and has grown into the largest festive lighting company in Europe. It employs 350 people, operates 36 subsidiaries in 100 countries and manufactures lighting displays in Slovakia, Mexico, Romania, Turkey, China and Conover, North Carolina. Klaus Mark owns the company with his wife, Marie, and twin brother Thomas.
MK will close its North Carolina facility and make Mount Vernon the U.S. headquarters. American Christmas will renovate the property before MK moves in.
Those property renovations will create four construction jobs. The buyer has agreed to hire four employees as a condition of the acquisition. MK also pledged to keep all 52 current employees and create 16 to 18 new jobs within two years.
Mark said the plan is to expand business in North America. “If all goes well,” he said, the company could double the jobs to more than 100 by 2021.
Displays will be manufactured elsewhere and assembled in Mount Vernon, where light sets will be stored and then shipped to North American customers when they need them.
Fred Schwam will stay on for three years, first as the CEO and then as head of development.
The deals for the property and company are expected to finalize in a week or two, according to Eon S. Nichols, an attorney with Cuddy & Feder in White Plains, and close by early April.
The property transaction is contingent on MK getting a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, or PILOT, from the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency. The IDA at its Feb. 28 meeting approved a preliminary inducement resolution for financial assistance.
MK would get a mortgage tax exemption of $154,050. Under a 12-year PILOT agreement in 2010, American Christmas is paying $143,123 in real estate taxes. That deal will be terminated and a new 15-year agreement will start at $50,000 a year, increase to $75,000 in the fifth year and $145,000 in year eleven.
Mayor Richard Thomas, chairman of the IDA, said the streets and parking lots of Mount Vernon have lighting challenges. “I’d love to see you bring festive lights to the city,” he said. “Hopefully, the city becomes one of your playgrounds.”