ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph has changed the date for their annual fireworks display from July 4 to July 3, reportedly to reduce crowds and so people who have to work the Friday after Independence Day won’t need to stay up late that night.
“I hope it is a good representative day and night for fireworks this year, so our community members get a fair view of the effects of the change and a feel for whether (July 3) proves to have advantages for our community that make it worth trying again,” City Manager John Hodgson commented by email.
The switch is already a dud, according to many people who commented on The Herald-Palladium’s Facebook page.
“I’m upset they changed the date ... plans my family makes are totally thrown off now,” one commenter wrote, one of 143 comments received over about 24 hours, the majority in opposition to July 3 fireworks.
Others pointed out that this will prevent them from enjoying both the St. Joseph fireworks and the displays in Baroda and South Haven, also scheduled for July 3 (though South Haven’s could be cancelled due to the high lake level).
“Lovely. Right against South Haven’s Light Up The Lake 30K show which is MUCH better,” another person wrote.
Hodgson said the change has been discussed for several years. Last year, when the fireworks start time was changed from 10:30 p.m. to 10 because of a looming thunderstorm, he said many people expressed appreciation that they got to bed earlier before the next work day.
The start time will again be at 10 p.m., Hodgson said.
“The fireworks will not be at the end of a long beach day for so many people,” Hodgson said.
Steve Neubecker, St. Joseph’s director of the Department of Public Safety, explained that the change was made in the hope that it would reduce congestion at the beach and on the streets, “at least to some degree, by holding the fireworks the same night as South Haven and Baroda. ... At this time, we expect the crowds to be lighter in size.”
The St. Joseph fireworks show draws as many as 40,000 to Silver Beach and Lake Bluff Park. They are held in conjunction with a patriotic concert by the Southwest Michigan Symphony at Shadowland Pavilion, which also will take place July 3.
Another advantage to the July 3 date is that the piers, which are popular with beachgoers, won’t need to be closed July 4 while the fireworks are being set up, Hodgson pointed out.
Berrien County Commissioner Bill Chickering, a St. Joseph resident, told the county board that the date change is an inconvenience for people from out of town who did not know about the switch, including his friends from Chicago.
“Wednesday is not a holiday,” Chickering said.
City Commissioner Chris Heugel, president of the Cornerstone Chamber of Commerce, said his office had received two calls from people who had made hotel reservations for July 4 with the expectation that there would be fireworks that night.
One person was “highly upset” and said they had been coming to St. Joseph for 20 years to see the fireworks, and couldn’t get their hotel deposit back, Heugel said.
One comment on the HP Facebook page complained “We booked our airline tickets so we could be there on the fourth, for the fireworks.”
During the commissioners’ Personnel Committee meeting, Sheriff Paul Bailey said the change was not prompted by concerns from his department about security during the fireworks.
“They never talked to me,” Bailey said of St. Joseph officials. “They just changed it. They never called us.”
Undersheriff Chuck Heit said that having fireworks on the same night in St. Joseph and Baroda won’t put a strain on their force. They use reserve officers for traffic and crowd control in Baroda, and regular deputies in St. Joseph, he said.
Having big crowds for July 3 fireworks and July 4 beachgoing won’t be a hardship, as well, because the department always has a strong presence on Independence Day, he added.
Berrien Parks Director Brian Bailey said the July 3 fireworks won’t tax his staff, either. Last year the beach was busy the entire week of July 4, he said.
It will require two days of picking up debris, which is done by jail inmates, he said.
Chickering asked Bailey to provide attendance numbers at Silver Beach for this year and last year, to see if changing the date lessened the crowds.
While the lake level might affect the South Haven show, Neubecker said lake levels aren’t an issue for St. Joseph fireworks because they are launched from the east end of the North Pier, which sits at a higher elevation.
Hodgson said the comments he has received have been split.
“The greatest number of responses I’ve heard are folks who say they are interested in seeing how it works, they aren’t sure if it will be better but don’t mind trying it,” he said.
One Herald-Palladium commentator offered: “I’m fine moving it to the 3rd! Everyone else can go to Baroda. I’ll go to Lions Park by myself and it won’t take an hour to drive a mile back home afterwards.”
Next year, when July 4 is on a Saturday, is up in the air, Hodgson said.
“We believe we need to see how this year goes and how the different advantages and disadvantages appear to come to pass – or fail to come to pass – and then develop a recommendation for 2020 with that information,” he said.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak