Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: July 7, 2016 6:11 a.m.
PRESCOTT – A smaller budget, a more constrained setting, and a reduction in the size of fireworks mortar shells all combined this year for a July 4 celebration that has generated debate in the community.
Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg said Tuesday, July 5, that he received 10 or 11 calls and emails since the 9 p.m. July 4 fireworks display.
“There are pros and cons,” Oberg said of the event, which took place in Prescott’s downtown for the first time this year. “They’re running about 50-50.”
While some residents said they liked the downtown venue and the smaller display, Oberg said, others preferred the previous venue at Pioneer Park in northeast Prescott.
Reader comments on the Daily Courier’s dcourier.com website were a bit more critical. Of the 18 total comments by Wednesday afternoon, July 6, more than a dozen were largely negative, with a few neutral or positive.
“It was such a disappointment from previous years …” stated one. Another asked, “What the heck happened to the fireworks? After 15 minutes, it just fizzled.”
But another reader called the celebration “just right for me. More of an old-fashioned, down-home affair rather than some pyrotechnics extravaganza.”
There is no question that the fireworks were smaller this year. Prescott Fire Marshal Don Devendorf reported that the fire department limited the fireworks mortar shells to one inch this year, because of the smaller “fall-out” area for the embers.
That compares with previous years at Pioneer Park, where the much larger fall-out area allowed for shell sizes of four-to-six inches, and sometimes eight inches.
The change in venue occurred this year for a number of reasons.
First of all, the Prescott City Council decided early in the year that it would no longer fund the $80,000 July 4 event, which regularly included about $20,000 worth of fireworks.
The decision was related to the more than $1 million in city budget cuts that went into effect Jan. 1, 2016 – prompted by the growing debt the city has with its public safety retirement pension program (PSPRS).
The cuts included the elimination of the special events manager job – a position that had long been in charge of organizing the city’s July 4 celebration.
Without that position, the city moved special events to the recreation services department, which advertised for proposals from private firms interested in conducting the July 4 event. The request for proposals left the location open.
Eagle Management and Events LLC won the contract with its suggested downtown location. Among the reasons for the change: Less risk of wildfire; more opportunity for business in the downtown area; and a more controlled setting for liquor consumption.
Award of the contract occurred this past spring – much later in the year than the city had previously started its planning.
Oberg said that would change this year. If the city goes out for proposals again for the 2017 celebration, he said, “It’ll definitely go out sooner.”
City Councilman Steve Blair, who mentioned the smaller fireworks display during Tuesday’s council meeting as an example of how the budget cuts had affected Prescott’s quality of life, added Wednesday that he would like to see the city contribute about half the cost of staging next year’s event.
“There’s no doubt about it – it wasn’t the quality of what the community has come to expect,” Blair said of this year’s fireworks. But, he said, “It turned out as good as it could, trying to find something at the last minute.”
Steve Gottlieb of Eagle Management and Events also mentioned the short planning timeframe Wednesday. “It would have been nice to have more than 90 days to plan the event,” he said.
Still, Gottlieb said he was “happy with the success of (this year’s) event and the success of the event for downtown businesses most of all. The downtown area was full on July 4 for the first time in a long time.”
Overall, 3,741 people attended the celebration at Mile High Middle School, Gottlieb said. Hundreds more watched the display from the downtown streets and intersections.
Noting that he was still working on the profit and loss for the event, Gottlieb was uncertain Wednesday whether the revenue from the $5 admission would cover the expenses, which included the cost of liability insurance, the fireworks, renting the middle-school space, and paying for the inflatables and water slides.
Meanwhile, Gottlieb said, he would “leave the door open” on whether he would bid again on next year’s event. “But a multi-year deal would need to be reached,” he said. “Just like the rodeo, if we want to grow the event, it would take sponsors. Sponsors want to invest in more than one year.”
For this year’s event, Gottlieb thanked the Northern Arizona Recovery Association (NARA) for its $20,000 sponsorship. “Without their contribution, the fireworks would not have happened,” he said.