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Chicago cancels July 4 fireworks, leaves shows to Navy Pier

The City Chicago will not sponsor any fireworks shows this year. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times library

The City of Chicago will not sponsor any fireworks shows this year. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times library

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Updated: July 8, 2011 1:54PM

Chicago is getting out of the Independence Day fireworks business.

There will be no city-run July 3rd or July 4th fireworks show this year — not even a scaled-down version — thanks to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decision to hand off the Taste of Chicago to the Park District to reverse $7 million in festival losses over the last three years.

That means Chicago’s only official fireworks will be the previously scheduled show at 9 p.m. July 4 at Navy Pier. That 15-minute show is paid for by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

Chicago Park District spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said the decision to cancel even last year’s smaller fireworks at three lakefront locations was a sacrifice demanded by the economic times.

It’s the same reality that forced the Park District to fold the city’s four least-popular music festivals — Viva Chicago, Country Music, Gospel and Celtic fests — into the Taste as one-day events focusing on local acts instead of making them stand-alone weekend fests with big-name talent.

“When the Chicago Park District inherited the Taste, we did so with an eye on cutting expenses and bringing the focus back to a family-friendly food festival,” Maxey-Faulkner said, noting that last year’s show cost $110,000, not including police expenses.

“Knowing that Navy Pier has fireworks shows scheduled for July 2 and July 4, we felt that was a reasonable expense to cut.”

Last year, declining city revenues and disappearing corporate sponsors claimed the annual July 3 fireworks extravaganza in Grant Park.

Instead of having one fireworks show on July 3 that drew more than 1.2 million people and stretched city services to the brink, Chicago held smaller synchronized fireworks shows on July 4: at Montrose Harbor and 59th Street to coincide with the previously scheduled show at Navy Pier.

City Hall hoped to cut security costs by making the switch, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Policing three fireworks venues cost $756,476, including $251,377 in “regular tour pay,” $444,251 worth of “accumulated compensatory time” and $60,846 in overtime, records show.

The only venue that drew an overflow crowd was Navy Pier, where attendance was so big, police were forced to shut off access for the first time in history.

The Pier closing started at 7:20 p.m. and continued for “two or three hours,” barring even those who had reservations at Navy Pier restaurants.

“We stopped counting at 250,000” people, Navy Pier spokesman Jon Kaplan said of the record crowd on that day.

“Only employees working in Navy Pier stores and people with tickets to the theater or tickets previously purchased for boat cruises were allowed in.”

Two years ago, Venetian Night, the annual parade of illuminated boat floats, was sunk by Daley’s cost-cutting, ending a 52-year-old summer tradition.

Viva Chicago, Country Music, Gospel and Celtic Fests were next on the chopping block — at least as stand-alone festivals.

Now, there’s no more city fireworks show.

“The city is broke. We can’t afford the circuses. Perhaps fireworks are a luxury we can do without,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall agreed that the fireworks fizzle is “a sign of the financial distress the city finds itself in.”

But, he said, “Although we understand the need to cut expenses, we’d like to see it tied to a long-term plan for all the city’s special events and promotional activities when it comes to encouraging people to come downtown and enjoy the lakefront.”

Contributing: Kara Spak

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