Downtown fireworks bring out 40,000 in Aurora
By Stephanie Lulay firstname.lastname@example.org July 5, 2013 7:36PM
Updated: August 8, 2013 7:07AM
AURORA — Good weather and the return of July 4th fireworks along the Fox River meant more than 40,000 people packed into downtown parks for the city’s official fireworks display Thursday night.
The celebration wasn’t without issues, but the turnout at this year’s celebration, co-sponsored by the village of North Aurora and staged at three downtown parks, doubled turnout at the city’s past July 4th celebrations, said city spokesman, and July 4th emcee, Clayton Muhammad.
More than 15,000 people piled into RiverEdge Park alone, Muhammad said, a venue previously estimated to hold up to 10,000.
In past years when the city’s July 4th fireworks were held at IMSA’s Sullivan Road campus on the city’s West Side, turnout was consistently around 20,000. Fireworks have not been downtown in at least seven years, Muhammad said.
“When you move it to a downtown area and spread out the location, it was absolutely amazing,” he said.
New Alderman Edward Bugg, 9th Ward, said celebrating the Fourth with his family downtown near the Fox River was his best Fourth of July “ever.”
“I really feel it is ushering in a new era in Aurora. We’ve never had anything to this level,” he said.
Alderman Rick Mervine, who sits on the city’s Fourth of July board, said working fireworks into a new location calls for a lot of planning.
It’s a Catch 22: organizers didn’t want residents to know the exact location the fireworks would be set off from for safety reasons, but patrons setting up shop for the display wanted to know in what direction their view would be best. This year’s fireworks were shot from Veterans Island, city officials confirmed.
“Now everyone knows what to do and what not to do. I would say most everybody had a very good experience last night,” Mervine said.
But with the city recommending three downtown parks for fireworks viewing — the new RiverEdge Park, McCullough Park and Wilder Park — patrons on all three park lawns assumed they would be in store for a prime view.
That wasn’t the case for 71-year-old Denny Hard, a lifelong Aurora resident who anticipates the city’s fireworks every year. On Thursday, his extended family set up yard chairs and lawn blankets in Wilder Park, he said.
“Then when they started we were absolutely shocked,” Hard said. Setting up shop on the promenade and behind Presence Fox Knoll meant his family couldn’t see some of the fireworks display. “I’m sure we missed 50 percent of the fireworks.”
Families with small kids tried to scramble to get a better view of the fireworks, but for Hard’s family, “it was a big disappointment,” he siad.
On Friday, Muhammad said the city fielded several calls from residents who had trouble seeing fireworks from the promenade in Wilder Park.
“Today we’re trying to take all of those suggestions to make a better experience (next year),” he said.
Mervine said he also heard people in Wilder Park who sat near Lake Street missed some of the fireworks, “but that was a very small percentage of the people there,” he said.
Alderman Mike Saville, 6th Ward, watched Thursday night’s fireworks with out-of-town relatives atop the hill at RiverEdge Park. From his view, “everyone was raving,” he said.
“Everybody’s impressed,” Saville said. “Based on turnout alone, I would say (bringing the fireworks back downtown) was a success.”
In RiverEdge Park, some light poles in the park and on the bike path stayed on during the fireworks display for safety reasons.
“When you look at the number of people and near water, it’s a safety issue,” Muhammad said. Some of the park’s lights also operate off of an automatic sensor that turns on at night, he said.
Getting people in and out of the parks went smoothly, Mervine said. The seven shuttle bus routes with 12 pick-up points gave people options. Within 35 minutes of the fireworks ending, a majority of the people were out of the parks, he said.
“We released the shuttle buses an hour later and they had no one else to take,” he said.
Alderman Juany Garza, 2nd Ward, took one of those shuttles downtown with her family.
“It was a fantastic idea so we didn’t have to worry about parking,” she said.
Garza said moving the fireworks back downtown was a return to the traditional in the city.
“It was very beautiful. Not even the mosquitoes were biting me,” she said.