Downtown Raleigh's first July 4 fireworks show fizzles

Buildings blocked the show for unhappy observers

ablythe@newsobserver.comJuly 5, 2012 

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As seen from the parking deck of the Captrust Tower at North Hills in North Raleigh, fireworks are seen exploding over Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh on July 4, 2012.

SHAWN ROCCO — srocco@newsobserver.com

  • After boos, a second chance for aaahs... Don’t fret if you or your children missed the Raleigh fireworks, either intentionally or unintentionally. Liberty, a Randolph County town just over an hour west of Raleigh, celebrates Independence Day the weekend after the Fourth of July. The Liberty downtown show begins this year at 9:15 p.m. Saturday. It’s a small town with no tall buildings and a fireworks display that promises to fly high above the trees.

— The city’s first downtown Fourth of July fireworks show had barely ended before the real fireworks began.

Tens of thousands of people had flocked downtown, hoping for a spectacular display of high-flying color, sparkle and streaming light to cap off Independence Day celebrations.

Instead, Twitter feeds and Facebook walls crackled and popped late Wednesday and Thursday with critiques of a new show that for many had as much fizzle as sizzle. Brent Woodcox tweeted on Thursday: “Things with a higher approval rating than last night’s fireworks in Raleigh: Adam Sandler’s last five movies, Congress, terrorism.”

“Raleigh: if you’re gonna have fireworks in downtown, at least make them higher than ... tall buildings,” Justin Miller @ImJustinMiller tweeted.

The criticism came after Raleigh decided to move its fireworks show from the expansive N.C. State Fairgrounds on the western edge of the city to the heart of downtown.

With the move came “The Works,” a new downtown festival that offered music, “gouge wrestling,” beer and wine gardens, water games, stunt shows, eating contests and children’s games. Vendors offered a wide sampling of foods.

The daytime events won rave reviews, and then nightfall was supposed to offer even more. But event organizers cut the fireworks budget from last year’s $24,000 to $15,000, a reduction that also shrank the show.

In addition, Wake County fire codes restrict how high fireworks can be shot in downtown, a limit lower than at the fairgrounds.

Some downtown visitors had set up lawn chairs and tailgate picnics on top of parking decks hoping to see fireworks above the rooftops.

Others had staked out high grounds of Raleigh – at Boylan Bridge, on a rise at the Lonnie Poole golf course at the N.C. State University Centennial Campus and Dix Hill on the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus.

But they missed the show.

“The view corridor certainly was intended to be Fayetteville Street,” said City Manager Russell Allen. “It certainly was geared for those observing from there.”

Roger Krupa, the Raleigh Convention Center director, said the crowd for the city’s downtown Independence Day show swelled beyond expectations.

It also was a different kind of crowd from the ones drawn to the New Year’s Eve celebration and other street festivals that planners modeled “The Works” after.

Additionally, Krupa said, the 2012 fireworks budget was cut.

Since fire codes for the downtown district prohibited high-fliers, Krupa said event organizers decided to buy a 27-minute show from S&W Productions, a Wake Forest company. They then put the money that would have gone to more high-flying pyrotechnics into street performers, such as fire-handlers and jugglers.

Though Krupa and Allen received many plaudits about the daytime festivities, they also are keenly aware of the criticisms of the fireworks show.

They said they and other city planners would analyze what worked and what didn’t.

Though they hope to continue the new downtown tradition, Krupa said some changes might be in order for the coming year.

“We now know we can get more people downtown,” Krupa said. “We might have to go off Fayetteville Street.”

“It was so enjoyable downtown,” Krupa added. “There were people in the restaurants; there were people in the bars. There were people at picnic tables. There was every walk of life in our streets.”

Krupa hopes to meet with county fire officials and talk about several possibilities, including doing several fireworks shows in the amphitheater or even finding a way around the height and distance regulations that kept Raleigh’s show on Wednesday down to earth.

“Maybe some creative interpretation of the law might help us,” Krupa said. “We have a year to work on it.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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