What would the Fourth of July be without fireworks?
Lawrence may have an opportunity to find out if local businesses and individuals don't help support the annual celebration organized by the Lawrence Jaycees.
Rainy weather that postponed this year's fireworks by one night and a decline in the number of people willing to pay to view the display added up to trouble for the Jaycees, who now find themselves $5,000 short of covering the $13,000 cost of the event. A plea has gone out to the community to help make up the shortfall.
The Jaycees have sponsored an excellent fireworks display for each of the last 38 years, and it seems the community has begun to take it for granted that the Jaycees will find a way to hold the event. The group's president says that even if the club has to make up the shortfall, it probably will try to continue the annual fireworks, but it will mean the club won't be able to contribute as much to its usual charities.
Why is such a popular project such a struggle to finance and put on? The size of the crowds that turn out to watch the fireworks is evidence that the event is popular. Why won't the community support it by buying tickets and making contributions?
A spot check of several Kansas cities, showed a variety of plans for financing public fireworks displays. Lenexa's show, which cost around $12,000, was paid for mainly by the city with a small amount of corporate sponsorship; Overland Park also contributed $20,000 to pay for fireworks at a jazz festival in Corporate Woods.
But in several other cities, private groups have taken over the responsibility for funding and organizing fireworks displays. Manhattan has no display, but it's neighbor, Junction City, has the "Sundown Salute Committee," formed just to plan activities for the 4th. Donations from merchants, banks, the city's economic development committee and individuals covered the $15,000 spent on fireworks and entertainment.
In Topeka, a local television station organizes the "Go Fourth" celebration under the sponsorship of the station and several major business contributors. The Ottawa Jaycees were able to collect $2,500 in donations for fireworks and held a celebration with arts and crafts booths, carnival games and entertainment in the city's Forest Park.
In Olathe, a town close to the size of Lawrence, the head of the fireworks committee said it required a "fairly minimal effort" to raise $10,000 in corporate and individual donations to cover its fireworks display. And this was only the second year the private group had undertaken the effort after the city dropped the fireworks sponsorship in an effort to hold down property taxes.
In every one of the cities contacted, the cost of the fireworks was covered by donations or tax support. No admission was charged.
Mark Lehmann, president of the Lawrence Jaycees, readily admits that the $3.50 admission charge for adults probably discourages attendance at the fireworks display, but the group depends on the revenue to support the event. Gate receipts always covered the cost of the fireworks when the display was held at Kansas University's Memorial Stadium, but insurance problems prevent the group from going back to that venue. And despite the fact that 1,500 letters were mailed to potential fireworks contributors, only about $2,800 was donated.
The fireworks effort has been valiantly carried on by the local Jaycees for 38 years. If the community wants to continue this July 4th tradition, it's time to support it financially.
Ticket sales are no way to finance a fireworks display that can be easily viewed for free from outside the park area. Human nature being what it is, you'll never get all those people to pay for what they get.
And the Jaycees shouldn't have to depend on ticket sales to finance their show. How about the chamber of commerce or economic development groups? How about local banks and merchants? How about local industries or even veterans and service organizations? What better gift to the community than to help support some patriotic entertainment that is free for everyone to enjoy? And even though the city shouldn't foot the entire fireworks bill, it wouldn't hurt to include something in the parks and recreation budget for such an event.
The Jaycees deserve a hand, both with making up this year's shortfall and funding next year's fireworks display. This is a tradition Lawrence should support and enjoy.