RED BANK FIREWORKS CANCELLED; SECURITY COSTS, INADEQUATE PUBLIC FUNDING CITED

Scenes from the 2011 fireworks show, when police presence was ramped up following widespread brawling and drunkeness in 2010. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank’s largest public event, the annual KaBoom Fireworks show, is off for 2012 and facing steep barriers to a return, organizers said Wednesday morning.

The nonprofit show’s executive committee, after several months of mulling, concluded about a week ago that the costs and challenges of staging the event, which draws an estimated 100,000 visitors to the borough each July 3, could not be met this year, chairman Tim Hogan told redbankgreen.

“It was a victim of its own success,” Hogan said, with increasingly bigger crowds  drawn to what was billed as the fourth-largest Independence Day fireworks celebration in America in terms of the number and size of shells lofted into the sky above the Navesink River.

“It was a big event,” he said. “It was a challenge to control the crowd and make sure we were providing security to the folks who came.”

An armored personnel carrier was on hand in 2011 as authorities promised to crack down on unruly behavior after several brawls broke out at the 2010 fireworks.  (Click to enlarge)

Organizers have faced rising hurdles in recent years, said Hogan, the president of Riverview Medical Center, one of the event sponsors.

Growing crowds spurred drunkenness and sporadic brawling in the streets, with fights breaking out in 2010 and again in 2011, and dozens of arrests.

The borough government, under tight fiscal restraints, stopped donating police and cleanup services three years ago, saddling the event with an additional $60,000 or more in yearly costs.

Coordination with New Jersey Transit on train scheduling brought thousands more visitors into town, adding to both the crowd size and the need for security, Hogan said.

Meantime, raising money from the private sector became harder as the broader economy struggled to recover from the housing crisis of 2008. Hogan said the 2011 event, in his first year as chairman, started off with a $40,000 deficit from 2010, and though some $360,000 was raised last year, the event just broke even.

Most of the funding came from large donors, including Springpoint Senior Living, which owns the Atrium at Navesink upscale seniors residence on Riverside Avenue; Meridian Health, parent of Riverview Medical Center, where Hogan is president; and Wells Fargo Bank. On-site donations by attendees were relatively paltry, generating less than $15,000 last year.

The organizers themselves, Hogan acknowledged, may have overreached, in 2010 expanding what used to be a one-day event into three days of carnival rides and other attractions that didn’t draw adequate crowds.

In addition, downtown merchants complained that the event caused them problems with rowdy partiers who were more interested in using restaurant and store bathrooms than in spending money.

But the final nail in the event’s coffin may have been the daylong rain that imperiled the show in 2011, said Hogan. The fireworks went off, but turnout was about half of prior years, underscoring for organizers just how fragile the endeavor was.

The show “got big and ambitious, and when the weather doesn’t cooperate…” he said, trailing off. “We saw the effects of that last year.”

Does he see a comeback for the show in 2013? Hogan said the event “can only be successful with community support. There’s a lot of forces that need to come together” to make the event – which he termed “hard to manage, hard to fund” – work.