There’s just something about the loud boom and shower of glittery lights that fill the air around the Fourth of July – the chorus of oohs and aahs, and the night music of sizzles sweeping through the sky.
Fireworks shows – expensive as they may be – are a big tradition for many towns throughout Southwestern Connecticut, and even when money is tight, a good portion of towns and cities in our area find a way to fund the patriotic practice.
“Times are very tough right now,” said Bill Coffey, chairman of the fireworks committee for the spectacular that launched through the Danbury skies Friday at Candlewood Lake.
“For the dollars they spend, for the amount of people to get out and watch them, it’s minor and it’s something patriotic,” he said. “We probably have 10,000 people in the town park that night and a sea of boats. It’s just astronomical.”
The city of Danbury finances its fireworks showcase through a mix of public and private funds, with the city paying a grant of more than $20,000 to the Danbury Volunteer Fire Association to help pay for the event and the firefighters picking up the tab for items such as the barges from which the fireworks are launched.
In other towns, the funding structure may be different. In Greenwich, Recreations Supervisor Don Mohr said the two fireworks shows put on back-to-back at Binney Park and Greenwich Point Park are completely funded by the town. Stamford hosted fireworks this year after a three-year gap due to budget constraints.
In New Canaan, residents are asked to pay a $30 parking fee to get into the fireworks show on the holiday, while non-residents are charged $60. “The parking fees cover the cost,” said Steve Benko, director of recreation for the town. “It’s about $25,000 for the fireworks, and then there’s the cost of the setup and take-down, the police department for security and traffic, all those things.”
This is the 33rd year fireworks have blossomed over the trees in New Canaan’s Waveny Park. Every one of those shows have been funded without town money, Benko said.
“Back in 1980, when we first started with our Family Fourth, the first selectman came to us and said, `There’s no town money. You guys run it,’” Benko explained. “And we raised money every year to cover it.”
While there are no corporate sponsorships for the event, Benko said there are several “generous residents who make significant financial contributions” every year to make sure the show goes on.
Across the country, more and more towns and cities are becoming reliant on local businesses to help make dreams of fireworks a reality, according to Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
“We’re really seeing a shift in who’s paying for the fireworks,” she said. “While we still have this down economy and municipalities are pretty cash-strapped, we’re seeing more private funding through either corporate or private donors to save those shows. That’s definitely the trend.”
The cost of the actual fireworks is one of the least expensive line items of most fireworks shows, she said, noting that police overtime and other items such as portable toilets can add up quickly.
“A small town could spend $10,000 to $20,000, and the really large cities are well over six figures, and that depends on where the show is. If they’re shooting on water, barges can be expensive to rent and that can add $30,000 to $40,000 to a show,” she said.
In Stamford, nestled along Connecticut’s waterfront, the skies have remained dark for the past three Independence Day holidays, for that very reason: There has not been enough money in the budget. With the cost of the actual fireworks and the need for a barge to launch them from so residents can enjoy the scenery along the Sound, the city decided to go without the annual show until this year. Thanks to private funding, Stamford’s skies saw a shower of sparkles again Wednesday night as the fireworks launched over Cummings Beach.
“I think it’s a fantastic community event and a great opportunity to celebrate Stamford,” said Lynn Arnow, executive aide to Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia. “I think Stamford has done very well through tough economic times, and we’re growing and thriving and happy to have an opportunity to celebrate.”
The extravaganza was funded by several corporate sponsors who united to cover the cost of the show, which will feature what account executive Charlie DeSalvo described as “close to six-figures worth” of a display from Fireworks by Grucci, the Long Island Company that has put on shows at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and President George W. Bush’s inauguration, among scores of other high-profile events.
Over the years, Grucci has seen corporate partnerships boom when it comes to footing the bill for fireworks displays, according to DeSalvo.
“I’ve seen a significant increase,” he said Tuesday. “The municipalities don’t have the powers they used to and the corporations, which have a lot of money, spend it to sponsor a lot of programs.”
In Stamford’s case, DeSalvo said the fireworks blowout will be a “world-class” affair, lasting between 24 and 26 minutes. But while cities such as Stamford and Bridgeport put on big shows this year, there’s something to be said about the smaller towns launching rockets.
“Everybody enjoys our show, and we don’t spend anywhere near the amount of money that Bridgeport spends on theirs,” said Gary Hylinski, carnival chairman in Oxford, where volunteer firefighters are to shoot fireworks on Wednesday, July 10, and Friday, July 12, to raise money for their department. The cost of the fireworks presentation is split roughly in half between the town of Oxford and its volunteer firefighters, according to Hylinski.
“For the first show, it’s around $5,000 and the second show costs around $7,500, because we up the ante a little bit on the Friday night show,” he said. Both nights will treat spectators to about 20 minutes worth of explosions, which Hylinski said he hopes can be heard all the way in Bridgeport.
“It’s a small show, but everyone seems to enjoy it every year, and that makes it worth it,” he said.