Big Bang Theory

How much would you pay for the fireworks display last week?

Technically, we’ve prepaid for the July 4th show through our taxes, but the town put out a tip jar at the entrance gate and sent around an email with instructions on how to make a tax-deductible contribution through its Friends of Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, a nonprofit entity that gives contributors a receipt for income tax purposes.

Last year, with sales tax revenue down and committed expenses (think library expansion) unavoidable, the town bumped community-building experiences too far down on its priority list to afford. So for a fireworks display, we had to go to Durham, just as we do for food trucks and affordable housing. Council members running for election a few months later heard how much voters missed the annual celebration. Matt Czajkowski suggested offsetting the cost with corporate sponsorship, generating no more spark among council members than a wet match.

But the idea caught fire with Chapel Hill businesses, and last week’s fireworks display was brought to us in part by the generous support of Top of the Hill, UNC Health Care, 140 West Franklin, Cruizers, East 54, Performance Subaru, The Cedars of Chapel Hill, Corporate Investors, Chick-fil-A, The People’s Channel, Harrington Bank and Grace Church. WCHL and chipped in time, talent and $10,000 worth of free advertising. (I hope they got a free parking space in return.)

Of the $42,000 tab, businesses kicked in $11,750, and the tip jar collected an additional $8,000 from the 27,000 in the audience, leaving about $22,000 to come out of the town’s checking account.

The idea of soliciting pocket change donations from the people who care most about advancing a project is not new. Friends of the Library and Friends of Downtown help out their respective causes. So why not broaden the concept as a way to plug some budget holes?

Why not “Friends of Solid Waste,” for instance? And why limit it to cash donations? Friends of Solid Waste could set up a sort of alternative gift market; instead of sending a heifer to a needy family in Malawi, people could buy a compost bin for a conspicuous consumer in Chapel Hill.

Pulling off the fireworks event took a lot of work. But the people dancing in the aisles and singing along lustily with The Franklin Street Band’s rendition of “I Will Survive” while firemen hosed down the upholstered seats of the new Blue Zone would tell you it was worth it. Even the people standing in line to buy $4 bottles of water and ice cream in souvenir bowls shaped like baseball caps would agree. And that was before Pyrotechnico outdid themselves with rockets never before seen in the Southern Part of Heaven.

We definitely got our dollar’s worth.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Don Evans

     /  July 9, 2012

    Wait’ll the town starts putting the tip jar out in front of the police station and the fire department!

  2. WJW

     /  July 9, 2012

    Who got the profits from the concessions?

    Why play music during fireworks? Fireworks (to me anyway) are both a visual and auditory treat. Different fireworks make different sounds.

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  July 9, 2012

    Profits from the concessions went to the vendor that has the contract for Kenan Stadium concessions. Some years back, whoever ran the concessions would subcontract out to community service groups (the Boy Scouts, school booster clubs) who would get to keep a portion of the profits for their fundraising, but 3-4 years ago, the group I volunteered with stopped working concessions because the terms of the contract changed such that it wasn’t worthwhile to continue.

    I believe WCHL donated playing music to accompany the fireworks. Personally, I like having music with fireworks; songs punctuated by rockets amplifies both experiences.

  4. Fred Black

     /  July 9, 2012

    Did the Town pay for the stadium or was it also donated?

    We had no issue with dropping some money into the donation box or with the music.

  5. PhSledge

     /  July 9, 2012

    What other towns in the surrounding counties, including Orange, had to put out a tip jar? The businesses that chipped in to help are the same that have done so for non-profits in this town for many years.
    Why don’t we do what the town has historically suggested to struggling non-profits over the years and ask the Kenan family to foot the entire bill…they’d only be doing as they saw fit for others.
    I’d rather see the town focus on developing long-range revenue generating projects than to take on the difficult skills of high-end fundraising. They aren’t cut out for it.

  6. Nancy Oates

     /  July 9, 2012

    Fred — There was no rent for the stadium per se, but the town did pay for the cost of using it, such as the dozen or so UNC security officers and the clean-up crew.

  7. Jon DeHart

     /  July 10, 2012

    This is one issue where i feel I made a difference !

    Last year , on the campaign trail I talked about bringing it back.

    It was a great event with over 20,000 people in attendance .
    What NON UNC event in Chapel Hill has that many attendees ???

  8. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  July 10, 2012

    You gave a dollar?

  9. Nancy Oates

     /  July 10, 2012

    If you arrived at Kenan Stadium with no money in your pocket, you can still make a donation toward the fireworks by writing a check payable to “Friends of Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation” (write “July 4, 2012” on the memo line) and mailing it to: Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation, 200 Plant Road, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514. Your contribution is tax deductible.

  10. Road Warrior

     /  July 16, 2012

    I gave my time. There are people who love to talk about how to make things better. How about this, volunteer. For those of you who only do Boards and things that “make a difference,” you would be better served volunteering for Parks and Rec. People make a community, not policies.

  11. Patrick M

     /  July 18, 2012

    “What NON UNC event in Chapel Hill has that many attendees ???”

    Not in Chapel Hill, but I think the Carrboro Music Festival has topped 20,000 multiple times.