The campaign to relaunch Fourth of July fireworks in St. Paul is about six figures short of its $125,000 goal.
When you shoot for the stars, sometimes you’re going to fall short.
Andy Rodriguez and Ashley LeMay, lifelong St. Paul residents with a knack for un-canceling beloved civic gatherings, aren’t giving up on their quest to crowdsource fireworks back into the St. Paul skyline. If not this year, then maybe next.
“We’re the Capital City, right? Hosting a fireworks show is important to a lot of people,” said Rodriguez, whose Grand Old Day Anyway campaign with LeMay raised tens of thousands of dollars to resuscitate the street festival days after organizers pulled the plug.
After a community outcry and fundraising frenzy, June 2 turned out to be a Grand Old Day anyway, with crowds and markets and wiener dog races down Grand Avenue.
Then it was over, and Rodriguez and LeMay turned to the other gaping hole in St. Paul’s summer calendar.
“I can’t in good conscience support spending tax dollars on a fireworks display in St. Paul this year,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced last year after turning a rocket-red glare on the city’s estimated $100,000 fireworks budget.
This is the second Fourth of Carter’s administration, and he’s sticking to his decision. The fireworks funding went back into the general fund, where the city probably patched potholes with it.
But maybe, just maybe, organizers thought, the same people who rallied to save a street fair would rally around the idea of a Fireworks Display Anyway.
“These are strong community traditions,” Rodriguez said. “People value them.”
Interest was strong. Donations were not.
By Friday evening, contributions to the fireworks GoFundMe were hovering around $1,000.
If a save-the-fireworks effort doesn’t come together this year, Grand Old Day Anyway plans to return the donations and try again in 2020.
Because if there’s one thing Minnesotans love more than fireworks, it’s setting off fireworks after somebody in government says that they can’t.
St. Paul residents can catch a fireworks show in the suburbs, or after the St. Paul Saints’ July 3 home game, or in vacant lots all over the city where people flout the state law that bans anything with more firepower than a sparkler or a charcoal snake.
But if you enjoy things that go boom in the night, you see no reason for St. Paul to settle for a sparkler while huge fireworks displays rattle windows in Minneapolis.
If Grand Old Day Anyway can finance the fireworks with private donations and corporate sponsorships, that sounds like a win for the taxpayers, the potholes, and the fans of fireworks. For everyone, really, except sleeping babies and my dog, who will be under the bed if anyone needs her.
Few cities foot the bill for a full July 4th fireworks show these days. In Minneapolis, private and corporate donors will relax in the special VIP zone reserved for those who chip in $7,500 or more to the Red, White and Boom fireworks display. The $16,000 show is funded solely by sponsorships, vendor fees and community donations, organizers say.
The Saints’ 3rd of July fireworks budget is “well into the five figures,” said General Manager Derek Sharrer. The team also lights up the skies on Friday nights and on major summer holidays. After the game, food trucks will roll onto the field and a crowd of 10,000 or so will kick back to ooh and ahh.
“Fans dig fireworks,” he said. “Fireworks on or near the Fourth always seem to fill the seats, and it’s a great way to celebrate our nation’s independence.”
But if you’re looking for the granddaddy of grassroots fireworks in Minnesota, head north to St. Cloud and the $200,000 showstopper the citizens will throw for themselves 11 days from now.
American Legion Post 76 put on the first fireworks show just after World War II. Volunteers and donors did all the work and footed all the bills. When the aging veterans had to step aside from the tradition, the rest of the community stepped in.
It’s a lot of money and work for flashes and bangs that are over in 20 minutes. But organizers say St. Cloud would lose a lot more than money if it lost a piece of its history.
“We think celebrating America’s birthday is important,” said Tom Richardson, the city’s volunteer fireworks commissioner, whose father helped put on the original Legion fireworks show. “It’s about history and tradition.”
He has his doubts that Grand Old Day Anyway could pull a citywide fireworks display together on such short notice, but he understands the impulse.
“I hope St. Cloud’s able to keep the [fireworks] going for 100 years,” he said. “And I really hope St. Paul is successful.”
Just in case the Fireworks Display Anyway effort fails to launch this year, you can find a massive, sparkly list of local fireworks shows at exploreminnesota.com.