Fireworks canceled; summer festival cut back to two days
Although the fireworks show was the biggest draw to the Meijer Taylor Summer Festival, the carnival that runs the length of the festival also is a popular attraction with families.
Taylor put on the most spectacular fireworks display Downriver for years. Estimates are that 100,000 people watched the fireworks in Heritage Park during last year’s Meijer Taylor Summer Festival. The fireworks have been cancelled this year and the festival cut back to two days.
Saturday, March 28, 2009 12:48 AM EDT
By Anne Sullivan
TAYLOR — The annual summer festival in Heritage Park will have a new name and no fireworks display this year.
The Meijer Taylor Summer Festival has been renamed the Taylor Family Festival, city officials said Friday.
It will be held over two days, July 11 and 12, and will include a carnival, concerts, the Taylor Rotary Fishing Derby, a five-kilometer run and a mud volleyball tournament.
Parks and Recreation Director Michael O’Malley said his department had several discussions with the City Council and other city officials regarding changes to the festival.
Eliminating the fireworks display is being done because of the cost, O’Malley said.
“To spend $50,000 on 20 minutes of fireworks in this economy — plus an equal amount in associated costs — would be fiduciarily irresponsible,” he said.
There are several contributing factors for the change, including declining sponsorships caused by a poor economy, and concerns about safety and security at the site and as the crowds are dispersing after the fireworks display.
The City Council discussed several options, Chairwoman Jacklyn Molner said.
“We have to decide what we want to do and make it work,” she said.
City officials said they want to be transparent with the public regarding the changes and the reasons for them.
At their meeting Friday, city officials reached a decision.
“Dozens and dozens of people have been weighing in on this topic,” O’Malley said. “Part of that is because there has been an awful lot of discussion about change.”
The decision was to downsize the summer festival and focus on several events rather than having one festival as the primary event.
The fireworks show, traditionally on the Friday of the festival weekend, attracted more than 100,000 people, Mayor Cameron Priebe said, adding that keeping the crowd under control became a challenge. Numerous police officers were needed last summer when the fireworks show ended.
“We allowed it to become regional; it shouldn’t be,” Priebe said. “It’s not just the park. The issue is three-quarters of a mile from the park. It’s a huge traffic problem. There are rowdies.”
In the past two years, more fights were reported at the festival, which led to more arrests. Police officers and firefighters also raised concern about violence, property damage, intimidation, crowd control, traffic control and alcohol-related issues, O’Malley said.
Last year, the city increased its public safety budget for the festival weekend by $7,000, to $41,000.
But neighborhoods close to the park still reported increased vandalism.
An incident on Phyllis Street after last year’s fireworks, where at least four cars were vandalized by a large group of teens, upset residents and brought several police cars to the neighborhood.
Initially, police thought the incident might be gang related. No arrests were made in the Phyllis Street incident, but several were made for disorderly conduct at the festival, police said.
Several police agencies helped with patrol and traffic duties after the fireworks.
Councilman Richard Sollars said the summer festival is a tradition he doesn’t want to end, but he acknowledged that crowds have been getting too large said.
“One thing we’re guilty of is putting it on the radio and telling everyone in the world,” Sollars said, adding, however, that he is “OK with changing it.”
In addition to public safety issues, cost was a significant factor in the change.
“It costs too much with the overtime for staff and police officers, the preparation, cleanup and preparation after because that size of a crowd damages the grass and it has to be repaired if you want to be able to use it after the festival,” Priebe said.
This was not the first year the council reevaluated the festival because of costs.
In 2005, it cost $350,000 to put on, and when all the receipts were tallied, the city had lost about $126,000.
In 2006, the city reduced the budget for the festival. City employees and their families volunteered at the event, saving overtime pay, and more than 20 sponsors absorbed some costs. The festival made a $700 profit. It broke even in 2007. But last year, it lost $50,000 due to a decline in sponsorships and concert ticket sales.
Sponsors are lined up for this year, but there has been no commitment on the amount of sponsorship, Priebe said. The city is expecting only 60 percent to 70 percent of what was donated in the past.
This is not just a Taylor issue, Priebe said. Other communities have eliminated or reduced their festivals because sponsorship money isn’t as plentiful.
“Without private money, these events are not doable,” Priebe said.
Councilman Herman Ramik said safety of the public must be the top priority. He said he doesn’t want another incident like last year on Phyllis Street. He also is concerned about the costs.
Another concern is if the city goes ahead with plans for the festival, and sponsorships decline, will it be able to afford to pay the cost, he said.