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Fireworks: the economics of the intangibles

coverThis Fourth of July there will be plenty of places from which to watch a fireworks display. North Jackson County will not be among them.

“I understand Sylva’s not having them this year,” said Cindy Cavender, marketing director with the Franklin Chamber of Commerce.

Jackson County officials decided not to fund fireworks this year. Money’s tight and can be put to other uses. 

“Based on what we’ve done the last couple of years,” said Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, “I don’t think the north part of the county is going to be missing out.”

Jackson officials made the fireworks funding decision on the heels of a few off years. After restoring the old courthouse overlooking Sylva’s Main Street, it was discovered that fireworks could potentially damage the building. The fireworks display was then moved to the rock quarry in nearby Dillsboro for a couple of years, before being rained out last year.

This year the county is putting money it would have spent on fireworks toward other festivities — concerts and festivals throughout the summer.

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In the southern part of the county — where Jackson also previously funded a fireworks display — the Village Green, a community group in Cashiers, has stepped up to provide the July 4 fireworks. 

“Last year it was about $11,000,” said Ann Self, of the Village Green. “We added a few more bells and whistles this year, so we’re in the same ballpark, but a little more.”

That’s a lot of money for a privately funded, donor dependent, group to pay. Even in Cashiers. 

“It’s costly to have a fireworks show, but at the same time we know it’s the Village Green’s responsibility to provide those services to the community. And it’s what our donors expect when they make their donations,” Self said.

In other communities in the region, this conversations was not had. 

“There was never any discussion about not having fireworks,” said Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark.

Fireworks were a Fourth of July foregone conclusion.

“I think the people of Franklin would be dispirited if we didn’t have’em,” said Cavender.

The fireworks in Franklin cost $10,000. The holiday event is funded through sponsorships from entities like the Macon County Recreation Park, Franklin Tourism Commission and the Biltmore Baptist Church.

In Swain County, the firework display runs about $17,000. The Swain Tourism Development Authority, which funds the event with money generated by occupancy taxes, never considered cutting back.

“It’s very visible, they look really great when you’re anywhere downtown,” said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain TDA. “We look at that as one of the ways to bring people in.”

Wilmot estimates downtown Bryson City alone gets trafficked by 3,000 Fourth of July revelers.

“Even last year, when it rained, Everett Street was completely lined,” she recalled.

In Franklin, Cavender estimates even higher draws.

“The numbers that we got, and I think they’re fairly conservative, is 6,000,” she said. “Another couple thousand outside the park.”

The fireworks display put on by Lake Junaluska in Haywood County traditionally attracts throngs of people. Ken Howle, the conference center’s director of advancement, pegs the number in “excess of 10,000.”

“It’s definitely the largest event that Lake Junaluska puts on on an annual basis,” Howle said. 

The display at the lake this year is costing $12,500, split between the conference center and a $4,500 Haywood County Tourism Development Authority grant. 

“I think everybody certainly expects to see fireworks on the Fourth of July holiday,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood TDA. “It’s part of the whole package.”

Down the road in Maggie Valley, town officials have put up $10,000 for a fireworks show at the festival grounds. The half hour show will top off a more modest July 4 than in previous years.

“We’ve kind of reenvisioned our Fourth of July celebration,” said Maggie Valley Town Manager Nathan Clark, explaining that some of the costly frills of year’s past had been nixed. “The vision behind this is to kind of strip down Fourth of July and kind of get back to celebrating with our friends and neighbors. Bring your own entertainment, your own cornhole board, your own Frisbee to toss around.”

In Canton, Mayor Mike Ray and a collection of sponsors is providing a July 5 fireworks display. 

“This is a way to give people in the area an encore fireworks celebration,” said Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss, putting the cost of the display at about $7,500. 

In Cherokee, Fourth of July celebrations are again being bundled with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Pow Wow event.

“It’s a big weekend for us,” said Skooter McCoy, destination marketing manager for Cherokee.

For a while, the tribe tried splitting the Pow Wow and the fireworks, but it split a good thing — the summer spike in visitor draw — and triggered a return to packaging the events.

“We decided to kind of spike the spike, as some people say,” McCoy said.

An estimated 3,000 people watch the fireworks in Cherokee from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort parking lot. More are viewing from vantage points surrounding the site. 

“It’s gonna be a lot of people,” McCoy said. 

The amount of money expended on the Fourth of July fireworks display in Cherokee is a mystery. Suffice it to say, it’s enough.

“I will say we’re big fans of fireworks,” McCoy assures. “Us being a destination market as we are, it’s important to us to keep our visitors very happy.”

In Franklin, Cavender said they’re expecting to likely get a few more visitors this year.

“We’ve had a number of calls from folks from Dillsboro just in the last couple of days,” she said. “So, yeah, I think we well get some folks from Sylva.”

The obvious attraction to fireworks for elected officials and tourism authorities and community groups is a display’s ability to draw a crowd. That crowd spends money before and after the “oooohhhs” and “ahhhhs.”

But a fireworks display is also about a something a little deeper for some people. When money is put on the table for fireworks it’s because of something bigger than a standard stab at putting more heads in beds and diners in restaurants

“Our mission is a little bit above that,” said Clark. “It’s about a time when people can get together and celebrate the true American spirit.”

“It celebrates the community in which we live,” said Wilmot. 

That’s why the Village Green stepped up in Cashiers, even with a number of smaller displays already scheduled for the holidays in the area by private neighborhood groups.

“For us to be able to come together at least once a year to celebrate our freedom in a public place is important,” said Self.

Such freedom will still be celebrated in Sylva on July 4, just not with fireworks.

Dixie Brendle is a downtown business owner in Sylva. She’s about to open up an ice cream parlor, called Remedy, on Main Street. It’s a spot that would have had a nice view of the fireworks show.

“We were hoping to get open on the third, but if there’s not a real big deal on the Fourth of July we may not rush it,” Brendle said, looking toward a mellow holiday.

Wooten will be out of town for July 4. He plans to enjoy some fireworks.

“I’m going to be in Holden Beach,” Jackson’s county manager said. “And I suspect, on the Fourth of July, there will be somewhere on the coast where there will be fireworks.”



Bang for your buck

How much do fireworks displays cost in WNC?

Bryson City: $17,000

Lake Junaluska: $12,500

Cashiers Village Green: $11,000

Franklin: $10,000

Maggie Valley: $10,000

Canton: $7,500

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