ADDA, mayor express support for downtown Athens fireworks

A crowd watches the fireworks that were part of last year’s local Independence Day weekend celebration, held July 1 in downtown Athens. (File photo / Athens Banner-Herald/OnlineAthens.com)

The Athens Downtown Development Authority has heard the cries from some downtown business owners who want another July Fourth fireworks display.

The ADDA, and Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson, who also serves on the ADDA board, committed Tuesday to taking steps toward planning a follow-up to last year’s successful downtown Independence Day weekend festival and fireworks show. That event was hastily arranged by the ADDA’s former executive director and her staff after Georgia Square mall announced last spring that it wouldn’t be hosting a July Fourth festival and fireworks show, as it had for the previous two years.

At Tuesday’s ADDA meeting, Denson said the Athens-Clarke County government could chip in to pay for a fireworks show. At the same time, the ADDA board asked the authority’s two new directors to explore the possibility and cost of hiring an event planner to run the show.

Denson told the board she would set aside $20,000 for fireworks in her budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That budget is expected to be unveiled to the full commission in April, with adoption of the spending plan likely coming in June.

The mayor said she doesn’t know exactly where she’ll find the money to allocate to a downtown fireworks show.

“I haven’t decided which funds it’s going to come from,” she said.

Last year the fireworks, along with insurance, security and other costs, had a price tag of more than $74,000. The costs were covered by the ADDA, some corporate donations, and some funding from the county.

Local business owners, in their pleas at Tuesday’s ADDA meeting and elsewhere to make the fireworks happen again downtown, have offered to help raise money for the event.

Rusty Heery, owner of downtown clothing store Heery’s, attended the Tuesday meeting in support of a fireworks show.

“What we saw last year at the fireworks was really a community event. That was exactly what this community is about,” he said.

Russell Edwards, former chair of the local Democratic Committee, brought a petition to the meeting, which more than 700 people had signed in favor of another fireworks show.

The mayor said she’d like to see a downtown fireworks show every year, but the question remained as to who would lead the planning.

Chris Blackmon, a member of the ADDA board, said the authority doesn’t have the staff to put on the event every year.

Instead, an event coordinator could be hired to plan out the details, and perhaps a local nonprofit organization would volunteer to help put on the event as well, board members surmised Tuesday.

“If the ADDA wanted to commit some money they could talk to some nonprofits, and say, ‘We have this much money. Do you want to take it on and work with us to figure out some kind of ads and figure out how to raise some money?’” Denson said.

When a question was raised as to whether the downtown business community would be willing to raise money to cover the remaining cost, Heery said he was trying to “keep quiet.”

“My thought is you’ve got two new directors who don’t have anything else to do but put this on,” Heery said.

Following the departure of former executive director Pamela Thompson, who left in December for a job in coastal Georgia’s Glynn County, the ADDA board hired former Athens-Clarke County commissioners Linda Ford and David Lynn to serve as co-directors of the ADDA. Ford, who has experience in small business, will work with downtown businesses, and Lynn, who has experience in planning, will do planning and outreach work for the authority.

Responding to Heery, Blackmon said Ford and Lynn would be busy with other ADDA business, including applying for grants, hiring interns and planning beautification efforts.

The ADDA board’s Mike Hamby, also a county commissioner, said the board hopes to find an event planner or nonprofit willing to take over planning efforts and “find a way to make it happen.”

Denson also mentioned that the July Fourth event could include more festival activities and vendors, turning it into a sort of fair instead of a spectator event.

“I think it could be a real moneymaker,” Denson said.

Follow reporter Hilary Butschek on Twitter @hilarylbutschek or at https://www.facebook.com/hbutschek.

More

Around the Web