Big changes on tap for Lawrence’s Fourth of July celebration; Lawrence manufacturing firm relocates to K.C.

How Lawrence celebrates the Fourth of July is set for a major change this year. No, the fireworks ban isn’t being lifted, but the community party and fireworks show is moving to more spacious Burcham Park. But organizers of the community event are facing funding problems to make the show bigger and better.

For the last several years, Watson Park near Sixth and Kentucky streets has been the site of Party in the Park, a July 4 celebration that culminated with a fireworks show by the Lawrence Jaycees. The party was hosted and organized by a group of locally owned restaurants. This year, the restaurant owners have turned the party over to Lawrence resident Richard Renner, who is best known in Lawrence for organizing the community busker festival in downtown. Renner has rebranded the event as GoFourth!

“Really, I’m just hoping to pull off a bigger, better Fourth of July festival,” Renner said.

Step No. 1 was finding a larger venue than Watson Park. Renner said Burcham Park — located at Second and Indiana streets along the Kansas River — fits the bill. Not only is the park larger than Watson Park, it is adjacent to two other parks near the river — Constant Park and the new Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park. Some of you may remember that Lawrence’s July 4 celebration used to be held in Burcham Park years ago.

The extra room will allow for some new events. Renner said a car show will be part of the party, a larger kids zone area, more vendors, a beer garden and more robust musical offerings. Renner has recruited Mike Logan with The Granada to book acts for the event.

“We’ll have better music,” Renner said. “We’re going to bring in paid performers this year.”

But as we all know, you don’t show your patriotism with better music. You show your love of country by lighting off fireworks with your four-fingered friend and occasionally patriotically maiming yourself with a sparkler. Or perhaps some of you prefer to let others take care of the fireworks displays. That’s generally the case in Lawrence, which bans the use of most fireworks by individuals.

Renner would like to improve the quality of the show, but that won’t come cheaply, he said. Renner said it takes $10,000 to $20,000 to produce a high-quality show. Thus far, he has commitments for $7,000, with the city providing $5,000 and the Lawrence Jaycees committing $2,000.

Renner had hoped the city would provide more funding through its new Transient Guest Tax Grant Fund program. The GoFourth! festival sought $19,200 in funding from the transient guest tax program, which is funded through the special tax that hotel patrons pay. But the city decided to provide $5,000 instead, which is consistent with what the city has provided to the fireworks show in the past, Renner was told.

As a result, Renner has started a fundraising effort on the website GoFundMe. He’s seeking $5,000 by June 1 to fund the fireworks show.

“I just hope that the citizens of Lawrence want to blow up their money in the air like the rest of us do,” Renner said.

Renner even has a slogan for the effort: More bucks for the bang.

You can see the GoFundMe page here.

As for other details of the festival, it will continue to be free to the public to attend, Renner said. Plans call for the event to begin at 3 p.m. and end at 10 p.m. The fireworks show is scheduled to begin about 9:30 p.m. Renner has arranged for shuttles to take people from two city parking garages — the one near the library and the one near the arts center — to Burcham Park. First Student will be providing the buses, and Renner said he’s secured funding for the shuttles from the convention and visitors bureau.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Renner said his GoFourth! efforts aren’t interfering with his production of the Lawrence Busker Festival. The wacky downtown event that features street performers of many different types is set for May 27-29, which is Memorial Day weekend. Last year was the first year for the event to be held at the beginning of summer instead of the end, and Renner said it was a no-brainer to keep the event in May this year.

“The event just got so much better, and so many people showed up,” Renner said.

Renner is estimating about 20,000 people over three days will attend the festival. He has 20 acts booked for five stages that will be operating in downtown.

The Busker Festival, which started nine years ago, has turned into a real business for Renner. He has a company — Busker Festivals Inc. — that organizes the events around the country. Thus far, he’s produced busker festivals in Tulsa and Austin, and he’s working on a project in Kansas City, and has been approached by Columbia, Mo.

• Lawrence has lost a once-promising manufacturing company to Kansas City. As we reported in October, Lawrence-based HiPer Technologies — which makes racing wheels for the ATV market — was close to signing a deal to be bought by Kansas City-based Weld, one of the leading manufactures of high-performance wheels.

Well, that deal has come to fruition, and Weld has announced that it has moved HiPer’s Lawrence operations to Kansas City. We reported in October that was a possibility but wasn’t a certainty with the deal.

In a release, Weld president and CEO Norm Young said the move made sense to maximize many business functions, including finance, sales, engineering, marketing and customer support. The move to Weld’s 200,000 square-foot production center in Kansas City, Mo., also gives HiPer better access to Weld’s forging technologies.

The release didn’t state how many jobs were involved in the move, but in October, HiPer employed 11 people in Lawrence.

HiPer was located at 2920 Haskell Ave. It shared space with the new Peaslee Tech vocational training center. HiPer was a tenant in the building, and its lease payments are a key part of the finances of the nonprofit Peaslee Tech center. I need to check in with Peaslee Tech officials to find out how the move has affected the center’s finances, but I know they have been planning for the move. In October, an official with the center told me the center’s leaders were aware of the possible move, and were in discussions to ensure the center would be made whole. Peaslee Tech leaders were optimistic that another tenant could be found for the space. I’ll let you know what I hear on that front.

As for HiPer, it once created a buzz in Lawrence business circles. Its business was based off of breakthroughs with carbon fiber technology. Carbon fiber is a material that is lighter than aluminum but tougher than aluminum. Company officials at one time had many plans for products to be made out of carbon fiber, but ATV racing wheels became the company’s primary product.

By becoming part of Weld, HiPer likely has a chance to grow that business. Weld generally is considered to be the leader in racing wheels. In its release, Weld said it has planned an “aggressive production build schedule for 2016” for HiPer wheels.

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