Fourth Ready To Fire

June 30, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Ed Kettle thought a Fourth of July without fireworks would be like a Christmas without Santa Claus — nothing but a true red, white and blue tragedy for a former All-AmericaCity

Luckily, four local businesses agreed with Kettle and the tradition will be continued.

"It's like Christmas without Santa Claus, or something like that. I don't mean to sound sacrilegious, but it's just part and parcel. It's what we do. It's a national expectation. It started a long, long time ago with our first celebration of Independence Day and it's what we do," said Kettle, a local businessman who owns public affairs company Edgar D. Kettle Co.

"People were not going to be deprived of fireworks on the Fourth of July, because there are other communities that do it.. But we are the hub, the big dog around here, and we should be doing it. There should be no question that the city of Grand Rapids should be doing fireworks downtown on the Fourth of July," he added.

So Kettle took it upon himself to find the necessary dollars to light the downtown sky on the nation's 230th birthday, and Centennial Wireless, Spartan Stores, Alticor Inc. and Metro Health showed their patriotism by contributing a total of $75,000 so the show can go on.

Centennial Wireless is the program's lead sponsor, having given $50,000 to the effort. The company's contribution is the second high-profile community endeavor that the firm has become involved with despite only being here for a year. Centennial Wireless also made a sizeable donation last fall to keep the skating rink open at Rosa Parks Circle, just a few months after the firm opened its retail outlets here in May.

"Plus, they're spending an enormous amount of money on advertising, which they're adding tag lines to about the event. So their total contribution is well in excess of $50,000," said Kettle of Centennial.

Metro Health and Alticor each donated $15,000 to the event, while Spartan Stores gave $5,000 and is providing food and beverages for the event's volunteers. Individuals also made personal contributions to the campaign.

Kettle's urge to take on the fireworks project came after he met earlier this year with Mayor George Heartwell about the Spirit of Solidarity monument that he is helping the Labor Heritage Society of West Michigan build in Ah-Nab-AwenBicentennialPark. In talking about the park — a major fireworks viewing area — Kettle learned that the city didn't have the sponsors or the money to go ahead with the event.

Two weeks later, the news that the annual fireworks program had imploded became public, and Kettle assumed someone would surface to rescue the event. But no one did.

"Nothing happened, and it looked like it was dead. I thought, 'No it can't be, you can't not have fireworks on the Fourth of July.' Then I thought, 'How hard can it be?'" he said.

So Kettle met with Assistant City Manager Jose Reyna, who gave Kettle a list of previous sponsors. Reyna also pledged to back Kettle's effort to raise the funds at City Hall.

"I just went back to the pool of people who had supported the fireworks in the past," said Kettle.

Spartan Stores was Kettle's first call, and the company immediately agreed to participate. Then the three other sponsors stepped forward, and now the fireworks are set to go off over the Grand River at dusk Tuesday, weather permitting.

But all the oohs and aahs the display will generate won't mark the end of Kettle's mission. He told the Business Journal that the event needs to be locked-in on a permanent basis, and that has to be done through a city-wide consensus.

"I've taken on a dual task. I'm doing the best I can to get this one up and running. Then Jose and I are going to sit down and have some real serious conversations after this to try to figure out how we can stabilize the event and try to get it back more in the public realm," he said.

"You have to have private sponsorship, and that really makes it a lot of fun. I hope we will have a lot of fun this year because of the private sponsors and the way we're designing the show. But it still needs to become a public entity. There is no other choice.

"A private person can't arbitrarily decide that we're not going to have fireworks. It's got to be a much broader dedication."   

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