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Suburbs get creative to keep fireworks displays
By Lenore Adkins | Daily Herald Staff

A couple enjoys the Sleepy Hollow fireworks a few years ago from the top of their truck. Inset, Libertyville residents sit on top of the baseball dugout at Libertyville High School to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in 2005.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Libertyville residents sit on top of the baseball dugout at Libertyville High School to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in 2005.


Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Fireworks explode over the Vernon Hills Summer Celebration in 2002.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/24/2009 12:04 PM

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Nothing stirs the spirit like a good window-rattling fireworks display on Independence Day.

But shrinking revenue streams have some suburban leaders rethinking fireworks displays. Others, rather than giving up entirely, are joining forces with their neighbors or seeking assistance from corporations or residents. And some are still spending more than they did last year to give the people what they want.

We talked to people from Naperville to Fox River Grove and from Pingree Grove to Des Plaines to find out what we can expect to see next weekend. Here's what we found.

More or less

Some towns just can't get enough of their fireworks.

Next to Chicago, which is shelling out $100,000 - as opposed to $131,000 last year - Itasca is the region's biggest spender. It packs $70,000 in fireworks into its comparatively short 20-minute display, which also gives Itasca by far the most wows per minute in the suburbs.

The village uses its hotel tax to put on the show.

Up next is Bensenville, which will spend $40,000 and Fox Lake and Aurora, which are all spending $35,000 for their displays.

For budgetary reasons, North Aurora isn't having a show this year. But it is giving $2,500 and an assist in policing to Aurora so the neighboring towns can enjoy one big show.

The same goes for Bensenville and Elmhurst. Thanks to a $5,000 donation from Elmhurst, Bensenville isn't shy about spending $40,000 on fireworks.

"In these tough economic times, it's smart to join forces and do what you can for your citizens," Bensenville spokeswoman Diana Paluch said. "Since we're all neighbors, fireworks can be enjoyed by everybody."

Flash content

At the other end of the spectrum, Hawthorn Woods, Sleepy Hollow and Huntley are each spending $10,000 on their cozier shows.

In Sleepy Hollow, organizers are saving money by offering a lower altitude show that will last as long as last year's.

"I know people have been happy with (the show) at least the last few years," said Wayne Eischen, media coordinator for the Sleepy Hollow Service Club, which puts on the town's Fourth of July community picnic. "I think we get more bang for our buck with the fireworks."

Residents help out

In Sleepy Hollow, the size of the fireworks show is largely contingent upon how many raffle tickets are sold for the community picnic. Arlington Park racetrack is charging an admission fee for its fireworks display that the racetrack sponsors - tickets are $3 online and $5 at the door.

People younger than 18 get in gratis.

Arlington Park Spokesman David Zenner said the price also includes live music and racing and is a few dollars cheaper than last year's prices.

"We're not charging admission for the fireworks, the admission is for the entire event," Zenner said.

Bigger fish

From partnering with other towns to recruiting corporate sponsors to help put on the shows, several towns are doing what they can to keep the burden off taxpayers.

Park Ridge has secured a corporate sponsor to keep the party going. - the Web design company - is picking up $18,000 of the tab that's expected to run between $25,000 and $30,000, said Kathie Hahn, a spokeswoman for the Park Ridge Park District.

It's a new partnership that means the park district and the city will only have to pay for a portion of the show, Hahn said.

"We realized the economy, the way it was, we needed to probably seek out sponsorships and donations," Hahn said.

McDonald's, which has its headquarters in Oak Brook, will cover that town's $30,000, half-hour show, but residents this year will pay a $5 parking fee.

"We're just trying to cover more of our costs," said Assistant Village Manager Blaine Wing, adding that the fee will help offset parking and traffic control expenses.

Maybe next year

With fewer sales tax dollars rolling in, several towns have scrapped Fourth of July fireworks shows altogether.

Elburn and Island Lake last year each spent $12,000.

On a larger scale, Gurnee reserved $35,000 for its show last year, while Elgin spent $60,000 for its 2008 display.

This year the skies will remain dark over those towns.

"Economic conditions being as they are, we decided to cancel them for this year. However, we are reconsidering them for next year," said Elgin city spokeswoman Sue Olafson.

Elgin also nixed a pair of events and eliminated 16 positions to balance the budget. "We've had to make some very, very difficult choices this year, but everything is on the table for consideration for next year."