KaboomcrowdLast year’s show, as seen from Maple Avenue and West Front Street.

First, there will be fireworks in Red Bank this year.

Though organizers of the July 3 KaBoom Fireworks on the Navesink recently expressed concern about the future of the event because of a sharp drop in corporate sponsorships, they’re closing in on their goal of raising funds to cover this year’s nut.

But the widespread economic collapse made this year’s production more of a white-knuckle endeavor than organizers have grown used to, as formerly fat-walleted corporate sponsors vanished. That’s prompted a rethinking of how the fireworks show is financed.

This year, organizers are reaching out directly to viewers of the show, which is billed as the largest in New Jersey and fourth-largest in the U.S. as measured in the number of shells fired — more than 10,000, lofted by the estimable Jersey-based firm of Garden State Fireworks.

Landing in some 47,000 area business and residential mailboxes this week is a direct appeal for support from individuals. redbankgreen spoke recently with Peter Reinhart, chairman of KaBoom’s 15-member, all-volunteer organizing committee, about the effort.

ReinhartPeter Reinhart works the crowd at Hovnanian HQ shortly before the 2008 fireworks.

redbankgreen: In a word, how would you describe the state of KaBoom financially?

Reinhart: Challenged. You know, the business model for the past number of years, most of the support comes from the business community — major sponsorships, things like that. The public, a few individuals give a few dollars. A small number give $5 and $10 donations, and a few give more. And then we have the two fundraising events — the cocktail party at the Monmouth Boat Club in mid-April, and one at the Illumination Dinner [last month] at the Atrium at Navesink Harbor.

Attendance at the boathouse event appeared to be down pretty dramatically this year.

‘Dramatically’ is probably too strong a word, but it definitely hurt in terms of the auction. People would normally bid just to benefit the cause, and there was some good stuff — golf outings, vacations — but we netted about 50 percent from that event that we did the previous year.

What is the cost of the fireworks?

There are the hard costs of the event, and then the cost of raising money for the event. All told, we probably need to raise about $200,000.

Do you use a paid solicitation service to raise money?

No. We do it all with volunteers. The cost of mailings is a big part of it. Insurance.

I guess you pay for police overtime.

We pay a little bit of that, but we frankly don’t cover the cost, just as the Jazz & Blues Festival and those types of things contribute.

And where do you stand budgetwise?

We’re short at this point [late May]. I think we’re going to need $20,000 or more from the general public. And the way we’re going to get there — this is only my second year as chairman, and I don’t really have the fundraising history of the event, but people say, ‘Why don’t you just get a dollar from everybody who’s there?’

Sounds easy.

It does sound easy. But we have a couple of restraints. One is philosophical: we don’t think we should charge. And the borough agrees, because they’re Green Acres parks [Riverside Gardens Park and Marine Park] and there could be a legal issue with that. But we’re not going to charge — it’s not the right thing to do. It would basically becomes an elitist event, and we don’t want that.

Even if just you’re shaking tin cans at the corners?

Well, that’s exactly where we’re going. We’re working right now on a plan to have approximately 50 volunteers who will work in teams of two and three, to have the equivalent of tin cans, though it’ll be nicer that that. They’ll be stationed at key points where the public enters the area, as well as walk-around teams. And they’ll make the pitch: ‘Hey, this is the people’s fireworks.’ Not corporations’ fireworks, the people’s fireworks.

Just think about it: if you go to a movie by yourself, depending on whether you get the matinee or not, that’s six to ten bucks. If you take your family, that’s twenty, thirty, forty, fifty bucks. Here you have live entertainment, a show you can’t see in movie theaters, a great outdoor venue, with musical entertainment. So for hours you’re entertained, culminating in this great thing — for free. So how much would you pay for that?

Kaboomflier1 copySo how will you communicate this so people are ready to open their wallets?

Well, through redbankgreen and the print media, we hope. We’ve got a big mailing going out to more than 40,000 addresses. The theme we’re using is ‘Kick in for KaBoom.’ We’ll also be giving out stickers that say ‘I Kicked in for KaBoom.’ We’re hoping that people will sort of, ‘Hey, where’d you get that?’

With 150,000 people — obviously they’re not all in the public areas, but there’s tens of thousands who are — I think once the public understands it, they’ll step up.

So is it correct to say the fireworks are not in peril?

The fireworks will definitely happen this year. They will not be canceled. As is also the case in Rumson, by the way.

They don’t have the same problem with underwriting that you have.

No, but there were rumors that they wouldn’t be held. They’re blessed with some great benefactors, as we are. But it’s just harder this year.

Was any thought given to paring back on the show?

don’t want to pare back on the show itself. We don’t have a paid staff
so we can’t cut overhead. But we have trimmed. Some of the musicians
are taking lower fees, or playing for free. Miscellaneous things.

We cut back on some of the perks at the events that people pay to get prime seating at three locations,
including the VIP reception in [a section of] Riverside Gardens Park.
We’re also doing a Friends of KaBoom West at the Hovnanian building
[where Reinhart is an executive]. In the past, that was a catered
affair, but this year it won’t be catered. We didn’t think enough
people would go for that at $150 each, so it’ll be just $25 a chair, no

That raises the question of why you can do that in the park but can’t ask for money in the park.

Yeah, somehow they got around that. I don’t totally understand it. Has something to do with limited versus prevented access.

So if you get your $20,000, that’ll get you over the hill for this year.

We’ve never had a surplus. We have to raise it every year. But we’ll make it.

What I really want to do is change the business model. Because in the end, this is really the people’s fireworks. Whether they’re in the parks or the boats or on the lawns, it’s the people’s fireworks. So I’d like to change the model so that most of the funding comes from the general public.

We want the show every year. It’s one of the things that makes Red Bank special. We have this unique ‘amphitheater’ overlooking the river that most towns would kill for.

Is that a message that hasn’t been pressed because you had the large donors?

Didn’t need to. Exactly. And the logistics are difficult to figure out, so you didn’t need to go there because your money was coming from other sources. But this recession has taught us a lesson, so now we have to adapt.

We’re hoping to morph into a more sustainable model so we don’t have to rely on corporate contributors.

[Editor’s note: Reinhart says officials are “pretty sure” this is the fiftieth anniversary of the fireworks, though an article in Asbury Park Press in June 2000 reported that the fireworks show
had been “displayed for more than 50 years.”

For an unknown number of years, the event’s costs were picked up by Red Bank taxpayers, but that ended with the creation of KaBoom about seven years ago, Reinhart says. Other reports indicate the the private-sector Fireworks on the Navesink Committee took over the funding in either 1976 or 1988.

Donations may be made via the KaBoom website.

The rain date for the show is July 4.

Here’s the full brochure, which was sent to 47,000 homes and businesses in Red Bank, Shrewsbury, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Lincroft, Eatontown, Middletown, & Rumson: Download Kaboomflier]

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