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Animatronic bears won't return to uptown Charlotte this year, Bank of America says

Leonard_Bearstein_Bears.jpg
Nick de la Canal
/
WFAE
A worker helps position a section of animatronics with the Leonard Bearstein orchestra in 2019, when the bears were celebrating their 20th anniversary in uptown Charlotte's Founders Hall.

A beloved 18-piece animatronic bear orchestra will stay in hibernation this winter after Bank of America declined to renew their Christmastime contract for Founders Hall.

The Leonard Bearstein orchestra, named for its four foot furry conductor, has grown into a holiday tradition. The bears have charmed and confused people in uptown Charlotte, delighting and perhaps frightening thousands of children since debuting in Founders Hall in December 1999. They performed a medley of Christmas tunes every hour on the hour.

Husband and wife team Todd and Jessica Alexander of Spintastic Sounds created the bears. They also set up the decorations for Bank of America Corporate Center every year after Thanksgiving.

The musical bears didn't appear in 2020 or in 2021 because of the pandemic. In separate statements, Todd Alexander and Bank of America both confirmed the bears also will not appear this year. The news was first reported by The Charlotte Ledger newsletter.

Bank of America did not say why the bears were canceled. Alexander told the Ledger he sensed the Founders Hall property manager, JLL, was more focused on holding private events than attracting members of the public.

"I think somebody upstairs said this is the perfect time to just let them go away," Alexander said.

The news struck a chord with many on Twitter.

"Distraught," wrote user @john_shubert_,

"More corporate layoffs? and at Christmastime?" asked @LOLCLT.

Other users shared memories of watching the bears on their lunch break or with friends and families through the decades.

"One of my favorite memories from working in Uptown was meeting friends with kids for lunch and watching the Leonard Bearstein orchestra. The reactions to the bears were all over the place, but it was a really cute holiday tradition," wrote @ErinBreeden.

Another user, @matt_kinner, expressed hope that the bears could find a new venue, perhaps at a brewery, Camp North End or at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Alexander told the Ledger that a smaller group of bears, the Chuckles Quartet, also will not return to Birkdale Village this year after the shopping center said it wasn't interested in a return engagement.

Chuckles and company are scheduled to appear at the Kannapolis Town Park this year, and Alexander said he hoped to get a set in Mint Hill as well.

Leonard Bearstein and his crew may still entertain audiences in other cities this winter.

Alexander told WFAE in 2019 that Bearstein and his crew have doppelgangers that have performed in Durham, Goldsboro, Milwaukee and two shopping centers in Virginia.

International versions of the orchestra have also been created and shipped to buyers in Singapore and Thailand, though the Alexanders said they didn't know what had become of those animatronics since.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal