EDA to kick in $6,000 again for July 4 fireworks

by Jim Boyle

Citing history, tradition and the community-wide nature of the annual Elk River Independence Day celebration, the Elk River Economic Development Authority approved a $6,000 contribution to help pay for fireworks for the event.

“I think I say this every year, but the city has helped put on this fireworks show and Fourth of July celebration going back to the early 1960s or late 1950s,” said Pat Dwyer, one of the seven EDA members to support the budgeted donation. “It’s a long tradition. I’m all in favor of continuing to support this effort.”

This year’s Independence Day celebration, which will fall on a Wednesday, will be the third annual citizen-led effort to pull the event off in Lions Park. Fund-raising efforts will kick into a higher gear today (Saturday, May 19) with a spaghetti dinner fundraiser from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Elk River American Legion. Letters seeking donations will also begin arriving in the mailboxes of Elk River area businesses this week.

The size of the fireworks show will be determined by how much money is raised in the community. The goal is again to raise $20,000 for the fireworks show and program in the park, with live entertainment, food, kids activities and measures to recognize the holiday for what it is — Independence Day — and bring the community together.

EDA Member Paul Motin said he views the Elk River Independence Day Committee’s request for funds differently than other requests the EDA receives. He said its purpose is to bring the entire community together.

“There’s a nationwide expectation that cities will want to have some sort of event going on,” he said, adding that if you miss the opportunity there’s a big price to be paid.

The Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce used to put on a Fourth of July event at Lake Orono that grew into a rather large regional attraction, but members decided in 2008 to make that their last one. There was not a celebration on the Fourth of July in 2009, which led to a great deal of consternation in the community.

It was suggested in an editorial by Jim Boyle, the editor of the Star News, a group of citizens representing various groups and organizations in the community come together to talk about creating a citizen-led effort to bring back fireworks and an Independence Day celebration that focused on the holiday and bringing just the community together.

There was a lot of support for that, and Boyle agreed to lead the effort after a group convened to see if it could be done. The group focused on creating a smaller-scale community event that focused on bringing many groups of people together and could be sustained with a steady enough stream of volunteers from the community.

“There was a desire to see if we could do this in a down economy,” Boyle said.

With $6,000 from the EDA and another $5,000 from the city of Elk River to cover baseline expenses such as police coverage and associated costs with a program, the group went about raising another $10,000-plus for the 2010 event. The same was done in 2011.

An executive board of the committee is now focused on creating a charter and succession plan that taps community organizations, starting with groups like the Elk River Rotary and the Elk River Lions. Others include the Elk River American Legion, and the Elk River scouting program. Many others have been and will continue to be tapped,  Boyle said.

Independence Day Committee members foresee big things.

“This group, I think, will have an appetite to not only put on the event but also to work together on community projects,” Boyle told the EDA. “I think of Rotary and what they did (to restore) Handke Stadium and elsewhere in the community, and the Lions and what they have done for Lions Park and elsewhere in the community.”

Boyle said it’s efforts like these that have Elk River and Handke Stadium pegged for a potential Hockey Day in Minnesota.

“These groups stepping forward are the same groups that maybe will work together in the future to bring more good things to the community,” Boyle said. “I only say that to bring the economic development component up.”

Meanwhile, the program for the third annual show is being lined up. This year’s event will include a new band to be announced soon and an Elk River Idol contest. The hope is to once again have the Scouts and the Elk River Police Honor Guard lead the presentation of the colors and for the Red White and Blue Elk River High School Alumni Jazz Band to make an encore performance. The event has been designed to feature local talent and foster goodwill in the community.

“While everyone loves the fireworks, I think there’s a lot more going on than just the fireworks at the Elk River Fourth of July celebration,” Boyle said.

The EDA asked if there was a way that the Independence Day celebration could incorporate the city’s brand and logo.

Boyle said it can and should, adding that one possibility is developing a photography contest similar to one sponsored several years ago by the Elk River Area Arts Alliance called “A Day in the Life of Elk River.” Many of the images captured that day still hang in Handke Center.

The focus of the photography could be on what about Elk River energizes individual residents and community groups, Boyle said.