It’s been a summer full of “no” so far, but a group of Spokane agencies have come together to make at least one “yes” possible.
Spokane will have Fourth of July fireworks this year, despite nearly every other community in the area canceling festivities. At four locations in the city, residents will be able to enjoy fireworks from their cars.
Garrett Jones, director of Spokane Parks and Recreation, said the city’s usual fireworks display at Riverfront Park draws crowds up to 20,000. They knew as early as May that was not likely to be an option because of COVID-19 , Jones said.
“We just brainstormed, how can we still offer this when everything has been ‘no’ for so long? How can we get this to ‘yes?’” Jones said.
Jones called Otto Klein, senior vice president of the Spokane Indians minor league baseball team. Indians games are famous for concluding with huge fireworks displays, and Jones figured if anyone could come up with a creative and safe way to bring patriotic pyrotechnics to the city, it was Klein.
Klein said he had wanted to carry on Spokane’s traditional fireworks show despite the circumstances, especially now that the Indians’ season – and fireworks shows – are canceled. He and Jones had wanted to think “bigger than our own venues” to do something for the community.
“It came out of a feeling of despair, in a sense,” Klein said. “It seemed everything was cancel, cancel, cancel. But we wanted to see opportunity, opportunity, opportunity instead.”
Two more partners then joined the effort, Spokane Public Schools and the government of Spokane County.
Jones and Klein searched the city for large parking lots with wide open spaces to provide great views. They settled on four locations, one roughly in each corner of Spokane: Merkel Sports Complex, Ferris High School, Avista Stadium and Plante’s Ferry Sports Stadium.
Jones said while the scale might be a little smaller than the Riverfront Park show, he thinks the “neighborhood” feel of the smaller shows will make sure this year’s celebration is still a special experience. About 1,700 parking spots will be available between the four locations, according to a media release from Parks and Recreation.
Jones said the organizing partners worked closely with Dr. Bob Lutz, Spokane County’s health officer, and made sure plans aligned with Washington’s phased reopening approach.
The drive-in shows will follow the same guidelines laid out for drive-in theaters under Phase 2, Jones said. Cars won’t be allowed in parking areas until 9 p.m. to discourage pre-show gatherings. Once in the lot, attendees will be directed by security personnel to designated parking spots, with at least 10 feet of space between vehicles. And if attendees need to get out of their cars for any reason, like going to the restroom, Jones said they’ll be required to wear masks.
The event will be broadcast on SWX as well, and Jones encouraged people to watch displays from home if they’re close enough to one of the locations.
Though next year might be a little closer to normal, Jones and Klein both hoped the spirit of this year’s geographically dispersed effort will carry on to future fireworks displays.
Klein would like to see that neighborhood aspect continued, even if there is one big event in the park again next year. Lots of locations throughout town would make sure everyone in Spokane has easy access to a celebration, Klein said.
“Is that what we’re planning? No, but that’s what we’re dreaming. I’d like to see us keep dreaming big into the future,” Klein said.
Jones said he was proud of the effort all the partners undertook to make the event happen. Typically, Parks and Recreation runs the Riverfront Park show all by itself, but Jones felt the partnership approach brought more potential than ever to this year’s show. In the future, he wants to see the collaboration continue.
“We all worked as a team to make sure we could give Spokane a safe, fun way to celebrate after all,” Jones said. “We showed Spokane doesn’t just give up and say we can’t do it, we made it happen.”
The only way the display could get better, Jones thinks, would be if he could go up in a helicopter to see all four shows at once on July 4.
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