Fayette County

After Lexington's fireworks flop, mayor calls for review of Fourth of July festival

Rewatch Lexington’s Fourth of July fireworks show in multiple angles

Watch from multiple angles as Lexington's Fourth of July fireworks were shot from the top of downtown's Fifth Third Bank financial center tower.
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Watch from multiple angles as Lexington's Fourth of July fireworks were shot from the top of downtown's Fifth Third Bank financial center tower.

A Fourth of July fireworks show atop Lexington's tallest building left a lot to be desired, and led to a flood of unhappy posts on social media. Now it appears that the fallout from the event could spur changes beyond just more impressive pyrotechnics.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray was among those saying on Thursday that he, too, was disappointed.

At a meeting of the city council Thursday evening, Gray said that he has asked his staff to review the fireworks issue and even said the city is looking at whether it should pay for some of the events the Downtown Lexington Partnership currently puts on. The partnership is a new organization that merged two downtown groups together. It orchestrated the fireworks show.

Gray also said his staff would be looking at whether the city should schedule the Fourth of July parades later in the afternoon or in the early evening so people can come downtown and hang around for the fireworks. The parade currently kicks off at 2 p.m. on Independence Days and fireworks don't begin until 10 p.m.

Stephen Grossman, chairman of the Downtown Lexington Partnership, told the council during Thursday's meeting that when they met with the fireworks company, the company mentioned that it had special fireworks that can be released from the top of buildings. However, the company never mentioned those fireworks would be different than previous years' fireworks. Grossman said they, too, were disappointed in the display.

Sandy McStay, a spokesperson for Zambelli Fireworks, which produced the show, said Thursday that "the downtown fireworks display in Lexington may have appeared smaller than previous shows because it used product specifically designed for rooftop use. This product is manufactured to meet all safety standards to protect the building and the type of roof which is used."

The product is called a close proximity special effect, McStay added, and it is ideal for this type of display because of the safety it offers.

"It needs to be a lot better," Grossman told the council on Thursday.

It was the first time the fireworks launched from atop the Lexington Financial Center, commonly known as 'the Big Blue Building."

The Downtown Lexington Partnership wanted to bring the fireworks back to downtown because downtown businesses — particularly restaurants and bars — benefit from the influx of spectators, Grossman said.

Terry Sweeney, president and CEO of the partnership, said earlier in the week the fireworks would be visible in 98 percent of the county, but many people said they were unable to see them just a few minutes away from downtown.

While Sweeney was pleased with the day as a whole, which featured the Bluegrass 10K, a street festival and downtown parade, he too was unhappy with the firework show that completed the day's events.

"It was exciting to have the fireworks off the Big Blue Building, but it didn't meet our expectations and you can tell through responses on social media that the residents were disappointed," he said Thursday afternoon. "We are taking a look at our firework company to evaluate for next year."

The fireworks cost $26,000, which is a little bit more than previous years, Sweeney said.

Immediately following the end of Lexington's firework show off the 31-story Lexington Financial Center, a flurry of posts hit Twitter and Facebook of people unhappy with the display.

"Lexington's really taking an L after that firework show," one user said, while plenty jokingly suggested the city had purchased its fireworks from Walmart. A thread on Reddit suggested they were the worst fireworks in the history of the city.

Sweeney said DLP has not communicated with Zambelli Fireworks since the event, but will be doing so in the next couple days.

"Every time you host an event you learn some things and we did with this one," he said. "We're already starting to evaluate and make changes."

The display was previously held at Kroger Field in 2016 and 2017, with Masterston Station Park and an area behind Rupp Arena previously being firework launch sites. The show was downtown in the mid-80s at the Kincaid Tower until it was forced to move because the city could not afford insurance costs.

Herald-Leader sports reporter Jen Smith said in a Twitter post that the downtown fireworks were "kind of underwhelming" and Kentucky Sports Radio founder Matt Jones said on Twitter that he "received about 20 messages in the last half-hour about how terrible" the display was.

The city of Lexington's Twitter account received a lot of the backlash for the display, despite it being the downtown group that organized the event. The city responded to many of the complaints and offered its apologies.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Richard Moloney said he, too, got a lot of complaints from constituents about the quality and length of Wednesday night's fireworks show.

"Unfortunately, there is nothing the council can do. It is put on by the Downtown Lexington Partnership. The city does not give money for the fireworks show," Moloney said.

The city does, however, fund the Downtown Lexington Partnership.

Outrage from Wednesday's display spread to Facebook, where Amy VanWinkle said, "I have never seen something as lame as that," regarding the display. Erik Dock said "Lexington's firework show was a joke and I could do better," and Courtney Smallwood claimed the display was the "biggest disappointment of 2018."

One woman, Marcie Reed Timmerman, said "it would have been far better to have ZERO city fireworks" than what they city displayed Wednesday. And from Natalie Rae Noehl, saying what many did throughout the night, 'Hey Lexington, these 'fireworks are sad....do better."

Many people said the fireworks within their own neighborhood were far better than what they witnessed at the Big Blue Building.

According to the Lexington Police Department, there were 217 reports Tuesday of loud noise or disruptions involving fireworks being shot. Police Lt. Andrew Daughtery was unaware of any injuries caused by neighborhood fireworks.

Herald-Leader reporter Beth Musgrave contributed to this story.

The Fourth of July fireworks display shot off of the 31-story, 410-foot Lexington Financial Center seen from The Woodlands Wednesday in Lexington. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Thousands turn out for a Fourth of July parade and fireworks in downtown Lexington.