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City staff asks Longview to expand July Fourth celebration

By Richard Yeakley
July 9, 2013 at 11 p.m.

As far as Longview city staff members are concerned, the Freedom Celebration and Fireworks Festival was a star-spangled success. They hope to make it an annual event that gets even bigger and better by offering more events and drawing more well-known musical artists.

"Well, we are our own worst critics, but I would give it an 8 out of 10," said Director of Community Services Laura Hill, in rating Thursday's celebration.

Last week's celebration marked the first year in recent memory that the Independence Day celebration, which drew a crowd estimated to top 10,000 people, was run entirely by the city.

The city of Longview assumed control of the annual celebration when officials with Ambucs Too, which had sponsored the event in recent years, announced in February it would not be hosting the event.

While the climax of the city-wide celebration was a 32-minute fireworks show, officials added a festival feel with live music at the Maude Cobb Convention and Activities Center and amusement rides and other activities on the grounds near the Longview Exhibit Building.

If city council agrees to continue to host the celebration, staff would likely maintain the form of the event, with activities from early afternoon and fireworks lighting the sky when the sun dips below the horizon, but they would add even more activities, Hill said.

The fireworks show, put on by Jacksonville-based Fireworks Artistry cost about $30,000, but other activities were paid for by event sponsorships.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said that in addition to the cost of fireworks, the city put forward between $10,000 and $12,000 for a variety of costs including several events, advertising, portable toilets and off-duty officers.

The Longview Fire Department provided four additional emergency medical personnel and three employees from the fire marshal's office for the event, a department spokesman said.

The Longview Police Department provided 14 volunteers including two officers, 12 Police and Fire Explorers and two supervisors who were on regular duty time and one reserve police officer on a bike, a department spokeswoman said.

In addition, seven police officers were paid through Maude Cobb and four bike units were paid through the department, she said.

"A lot of it was to get the event off the ground. We hope that with the momentum, in future years these events would become more self-sustaining," Hara said.

The city contracted with Dallas-based promoter Stan Allen to provide several of the larger items - carnival rides, the concerts and food.

Allen was not paid. His company made its money through ticket sales to rides and events.

Another set of events were hosted directly by event sponsors at no cost to the city, Hill said.

"We would probably want to look at some additional events. I was just sitting there watching people and thought, 'We need something with Frisbees.' Just more activities," Hill said.

While plans for 2014's bash are still rough, Dixie Golden, convention complex manager, said one goal would be to bring a national act to play the concert.

The Rock the Ages Concert, which filled the center this year, featured three cover bands: AC/DC tribute band Back in Black, Bruce Springsteen tribute band Thunder Road and ZZ Top tribute band Trio Grande.

Golden said she would also like to see the event continue to strike a balance between paid and free activities.

"I think the fact that it was so well received by the community is wonderful ... I would like to continue that formula," Golden said.

The challenge in coming years is to let people know the event is larger than the fireworks display, Hill said.

Mayor Jay Dean said the feedback he received from Longview residents indicated the event was one of the best the city has held.

"At first I questioned using tax payers dollars to fund that type of extravaganza, but sometimes we do those things to enhance the quality of life for our citizens. The amount of money that was spent … I think that was a good investment and we look forward to doing it again," he said.



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