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ECDI: No fireworks for NC Potato Festival

052317Fireworks

There will not be a fireworks display at next month's N.C. Potato Festival, the sponsor of the three-day festival announced Thursday.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Friday, April 20, 2018

There won’t be a fireworks show at this year’s N.C. Potato Festival next month.

Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. board Chairman Tim Williams cited a number of reasons Thursday why ECDI decided to eliminate the fireworks show from this year’s three-day festival, which will be held May 18-20.  

One reason, Williams said, is that the fireworks company the festival committee has hired in the past has been sold to a Florida firm. Given the firm’s new travel distance to Elizabeth City, "they pretty much doubled the cost of the fireworks," he said.

Williams also cited concerns, first expressed in mid-February, about the festival committee continuing to use the city’s Coast Guard Park as the launch site for the fireworks show.

The concerns came up initially because at the time, City Council had approved a proposal to have a 13-foot tall, 25-ton monument to World War II aviators constructed in the park, and city officials had said one of the stipulations for putting up the monument was that there had to be a clear safety zone around it.

A new City Council, however, reversed that decision in late February, deciding against hosting the monument at the park.

Williams said Thursday if the monument proposal hadn’t been scrapped, festival organizers would have had to find a barge to position in the Pasquotank River as the launch site for the fireworks.

At previous festivals, the committee used a local barge as a launching point, but the flat-bottomed boat can no longer pass a Coast Guard inspection. 

Williams said the committee explored the possibility of finding another barge to use for the fireworks show but ended up deciding against it. He said the rental costs for a barge wasn’t an issue in the decision. The issue was the cost of having a tug from Virginia's Hampton Roads area push the barge to Elizabeth City, he said.

Not only that, Williams said, but the tug would have had to remain until the show was over so it could promptly push the barge out of the way to keep river traffic open.

"So, we at the executive level decided that we would not do fireworks this year," he said. "Now, if we get a lot of negative comments and get beat up, we may re-consider it next year."

Williams also noted the committee has “struggled” in previous years to cover the cost of the fireworks show. 

Cindy Williams, Tim’s wife and also a member of the ECDI board, said the fireworks show costs approximately $4,000 for eight minutes of fireworks. She noted that’s just not cost-effective for what is supposed to a fundraising event.

"With the Potato Festival being a fundraiser for ECDI, we just didn't know that that was the wisest use of sponsor dollars," she said.

Besides celebrating the Elizabeth City area’s potato-growing heritage, the N.C. Potato Festival is also a key fundraiser for ongoing downtown restoration efforts.

City Councilor Billy Caudle said one possible alternative to a fireworks show would be a laser light show. He noted a firm in Emerald Isle specializes in such shows. Caudle said instead of having a fireworks show lasting only a matter of minutes, the festival could put on a "glow party" with a disc jockey and laser lights for hours.

"So, you get a lot of bang for bucks," he said.

ECDI Director Deborah Malenfant told Caudle the Emerald Isle company was asked to submit a proposal to the festival committee. Despite the firm offering a “decent price” for its services, it was too late to find a sponsor for the show, she said. 

"And it would take a big $6,000 to $8,000 chunk (of the festival’s revenues), right off the top," she said.

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