One day after a Seattle production company scrapped the Fourth of July fireworks at Lake Union, restaurateur Tom Douglas took to the radio waves to try to drum up contributions and save the show.
“Bless his heart,” said Jon Stone, executive director of One Reel Productions. “More power to him. Tom Douglas is a leader.”
But Stone — whose company has produced the Family Fourth since 1988 — says his company will not produce a fireworks display over Lake Union this year. And he hopes the cancellation will force a larger conversation about who should be in charge of the production, “so we can spare everyone the drama.”
Stone thinks that no single corporation should be responsible for footing the bill, not even one of the city’s most successful businesses. “To me, the sustainable solution was many companies contributing at much lower levels,” he said.
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And he hopes a business group will organize to take over the show. “What we were trying to establish this year was the idea of a broader business-community consortium, a long-term funding thing,” he said.
When One Reel first became involved with Family Fourth in 1988, it was hired to put on a show for a client, Fratelli’s Ice Cream. Over the years, Stone said, that client changed — from ice-cream makers to phone companies to banks.
But since 2010, no single company has been willing to be the sponsor of the event, forcing One Reel into the role of a professional fundraising organization, he said.
At the same time, support in the business community has been waning, he said: “It’s trending down, not up.”
As a result, “One Reel is not going to be able to fundraise for this thing. We’ve given it our best, but it’s not working.”
Douglas, who used to sit on One Reel’s board of directors, said One Reel wasn’t diligent about making sure its contributors knew what was happening with the show. Douglas said he contributed $5,000 in January, and “I never heard a word from them.”
Representatives of Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft all said their companies had pledged to be major sponsors of the event.
But Stone said those corporate contributions, all together, didn’t come close to the nearly $500,000 it costs to put on the show.
Douglas said he doesn’t blame the nonprofit for pulling the plug on the fireworks. One Reel only breaks even for Family Fourth and gets “beat up every year for what it costs.” Stone said if somebody else wanted to step in and put on a show, they’re welcome to it.
“There’s still time left for somebody to do something,” he said.
Mayor Mike McGinn released a statement Monday saying he would meet with local business leaders and stakeholders “to discuss options.”
But with the mayor heading to New York on Tuesday to discuss basketball with the NBA’s combined relocation and finance committee this week, there was no further news from his office.
From a professional standpoint, there is still time, agreed Julie Heckman, executive director of the Maryland-based American Pyrotechnics Association. “To me, it’s still early — someone can still rally and raise the money,” she said.
Heckman said she thought a half-million dollars for a fireworks show sounded like a lot of money, although she also said most big-city shows do cost well above six figures.
“A lot depends on the setup,” she said. “Barges are going to cost more than a land show, just because they do. Those prices can be all over the place.”
She said a small-town show runs about $8,000 to $10,000, and a midsize city show $30,000 to $50,000.
Seattle’s show would have cost $495,000, including money to buy fireworks, rent barges, hire security and produce a live TV broadcast beamed to some 200,000 viewers.
If Seattle is running short of money, “they could probably dig into that budget” and trim some costs, Heckman said.
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @katherinelong.