The Athens Downtown Development Authority has put together a last-minute Independence Day fireworks celebration after Georgia Square Mall, which has hosted the pyrotechnics display for the past two years, canceled the upcoming event last week.
No company was available to shoot off fireworks on July 4, but the ADDA board voted this afternoon to approve a $20,000 contract for a fireworks show on Friday, July 1. ADDA Executive Director Pamela Thompson said she is confident she can raise that amount through corporate sponsorships.
The fireworks will be launched starting at 9:30 p.m. from the top of the Classic Center parking deck, which is the only place downtown that the Athens-Clarke County fire marshal deemed safe, Thompson said.
Festivities will begin at 5 p.m. and will include local food trucks, a beer garden, a Motown cover band and kids’ zone with activities like face painting and a bouncy castle, Thompson said.
Parking in downtown decks will be a flat $5, and decks’ rooftops could be reserved for VIP viewing areas, she said.
While the Star-Spangled Classic at Bishop Park was a popular, even beloved event, Independence Day fireworks in Athens have been sporadic in recent years. In the midst of an economic downturn, the Mayor and Commission cut funding for Fourth of July fireworks in 2008. Local businesses stepped up to fund the celebration that year and the following one. The event was cancelled in 2010 and 2011, then returned in 2012 and was rained out in 2013. The mall took over the fireworks display in 2014.
Georgia Square Mall canceled fireworks this year because it is “gearing up for a more spectacular Fourth of July event in 2017,” the mall’s marketing director, Monica Hawkins, told the Athens Banner-Herald.
Mayor Nancy Denson, an ADDA board member, said she was “disappointed” in the mall’s decision—which she only read about in the newspaper—but added that downtown fireworks could become an annual tradition even if the mall brings back its display.
“I think the idea of having it downtown is really exciting,” she said.
Commissioner Andy Herod has floated the idea of spending $11,000 in unallocated money in the county’s fiscal 2017 budget for an Eastside fireworks show, but with that budget not scheduled for approval until June 5, there would not be enough time to organize it this year, Denson said.
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