Two of Richmond’s most lucrative companies are going to supplement this year’s usual Independence Day festivities by staging a fireworks program and festivities in heart of downtown. Why will this event be so different from the others? Two words: size matters.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in 2011. Grucci will produce the 2012 Fireworks on the James event. Here’s a link to the 2012 Fourth of July Guide.
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“It’s on par with what’s being displayed at the National Mall,” says Phil Butler, Vice President of Grucci, a leading fireworks production company based in Long Island, New York that will be performing the RVA Fireworks on the James event on July 3rd. Grucci will fire a “twin theater, hi-aerial program with a grand finale fired from the road bed of the [Lee] bridge.” Think that this is an excessive, if not an overly dramatic, public expenditure in the midst of a financial recession?
Think again. Taxpayers aren’t spending a dime.
“The bill is being paid by Dominion and MeadWestvaco,” says Ryan Frazier of Dominion, a company headquartered in downtown Richmond. No tax dollars or municipal funds of any sort will pay for the event. “Our role is one of accepting and thanking the sponsors,” says Tammy Hawley of Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones’s office. “We see it as an enhancement of our 4th of July events.” The Mayor announced the festivities in late May. The event originally sprang from conversations that Mayor Jones had with Dominion CEO, Thomas Farrell, shortly after last year’s 4th of July festivities. “When Dominion and MeadWestvaco expressed interest in completely funding the event,” says Hawley, “it made it into a reality.”
The Mayor’s office has been looking to create ways to highlight the downtown area. Last year’s implementation of an outdoor ice rink was very successful, and the Mayor wanted to showcase the downtown area in a similar, summertime, regard. Speaking of how the event has come together, Linda Schreiner, Senior Vice President at MeadWestvaco, says, “we are very pleased.” One reason why MeadWestvaco and Dominion became involved was because, “Richmond is a city on the up,” she says, and that they wanted to “punch the RVA brand.” People will see the fireworks from several miles away.
Perhaps the most well-known and well-attended fireworks in Richmond are held at Dogwood Dell. Richmond’s Parks and Recreation department estimates that approximately 50,000 people attend the yearly fireworks display at Byrd Park. The fireworks show hosted at the Diamond are also a popular performance on Independence Day.
Despite these two events, sponsors of RVA Fireworks on the James felt that Richmond’s most indelible aesthetic, the downtown skyline, was over-looked. Speaking of this, Frazier says “None of the [other displays] made use of our most unique asset,” the James River. Taking place on July 3rd, the event is not meant to compete with Richmond’s established fireworks fare, only add to it. That’s where Grucci comes in.
Founded in 1850, Grucci is one of the most well-known designers and coordinators of fireworks programs throughout the world. They have overseen multiple U.S. presidential inaugurations, as well as global events such as the 2008 Bejing Summer Olympic Games and events in Dubai.
Unlike typical Richmond fireworks displays, Grucci will play music to accompany their fireworks through speakers around Brown’s Island. In addition, WRIR (97.3) will simulcast the accompanying music as well as the live entertainment that will take place before the fireworks program. Although Dominion and MeadWestvaco are reticent to disclose the total cost of the event, Grucci’s website indicates that their World Class fireworks programs, the program that they will run for Richmond, runs between $75,000 and $100,000 in addition to their traveling costs. “We considered it a great investment,” says Schreiner, who is unsure if the event will become an annual event.
It’s difficult to accurately estimate the number of attending people for the festivities, although several thousand employees from Dominion and MeadWestvaco have indicated that they and their family members will attend. Of the event, Tammy Hawley of the Mayor’s office says, “We expect an overwhelming response.”
Photo by: sdreelin