Fayette County

Non-profit takes over Lexington's July Fourth festivities

The Fourth of July festivities will have activities on Main Street, the courthouse plaza and Cheapside.
The Fourth of July festivities will have activities on Main Street, the courthouse plaza and Cheapside.

Lexington's Fourth of July festivities have a new organizer — the non-profit Downtown Lexington Corporation. The city has turned over the planning of the annual parade and fireworks, as well as other events including the annual Christmas tree lighting, to the group, which has long organized events such as Thursday Night Live and Mayfest.

The move has meant a handful of changes to the events planned this year. The biggest came not from the Downtown Lexington Corp., but radio operator Clear Channel's Lexington operations, which plans the Red, White and Boom country music concerts. Those have historically led into the city's downtown fireworks display each Independence Day, but the event is moving to Saturday, July 2, at the Whitaker Bank Ballpark, where the Lexington Legends play, this year.

Because of that, the new organizers have planned a live music event similar to Thursday Night Live called July 4th Live, starting at 6 p.m. at Cheapside, where the weekly event is held.

Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corporation, said the Fourth of July fireworks will begin at 9:30 p.m. instead of the traditional 10 p.m. because of the changes.

"Red, White and Boom was always scheduled to end at 10, so we waited until 10, but it's dark enough at 9:30, so we're doing it at that time this year," she said.

Red, White and Boom will also end with fireworks on July 2 at its new location.

"If nothing else, the public will have two opportunities to see fireworks," Jackson said.

The Fourth of July festivities will also remain along Main Street this year. Traditionally, they had been conducted along Vine Street but were moved to the Cheapside and courthouse plaza areas on Main Street last year due to the streetscape project construction.

"We got feedback from the public that they liked that tight-fit space rather than being linear on Vine," Jackson said.

Longtime attendees of the downtown activities will probably not see much difference otherwise.

"To be honest, I hope the public never notices that there's a difference," Jackson said. "The city is still an extremely valuable partner and sponsor of the event.

"Their personnel are going to step up like they always have been. It's just that the logistical coordination will come from our office."

The group will continue to work closely with government employees such as Lori Houlihan, the city's special-events liaison.

The city made the move to achieve some cost savings, said Houlihan, because the switch meant a couple fewer positions in the mayor's office. Also, with the non-profit organization handling it, the planners could more easily seek donations.

"They thought we might be able to potentially get more sponsorship dollars and, if not, we could just run them more efficiently," Jackson said.

The city also has asked the group to plan the Vintage Kentucky wine festival and the Christmas festivities including the tree lighting, Kentucky Christmas Chorus, and Holiday Market events. The group already organized the annual Christmas parade.

"There's just so many events that they're already a partner agency with and they've done such a great job with that they seemed the appropriate choice," Houlihan said.

The group is evaluating the various events to find ways to improve them, Jackson said. For instance, this year's Christmas parade is going to be held a week later than normal.

"The problem we ran into was, that's a holiday weekend, and high school bands don't have their full ensembles and don't want to participate," she said. "The parade will be the Saturday of the following week, and we're moving it back to the morning so we don't have potential conflicts."

The Christmas tree lighting will continue to be the evening of the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Also, the Vintage Kentucky wine festival will be held on a Sunday this year instead of its Saturday date in 2010, which conflicted with the University of Kentucky's football game with the University of Louisville.

And in future years, fireworks might be shot off from Triangle Park because "Broadway at Main is one of the best vantage points in the city," she said. "We toyed with the idea of putting it down there this year, and we may very well do that when Triangle Park is renovated, but it's not feasible this year."

The shift in responsibilities is a "good thing for the city and downtown," said Harold Tate, former head of the Downtown Development Authority. "The Downtown Lexington Corporation has a good track record with Thursday Night Live and Mayfest at Gratz Park."

Tate, who is setting up a consulting company specializing in downtown development, emphasized that the shift will make it easier to raise money.

"With the economic situation the way it is, we're going to need more private support to make some of those activities happen," he said.

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