The Most Extravagant Fireworks Displays on July 4

Ever since I saw the unbelievable fireworks display that celebrated the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, all other pyrotechnics displays have paled in comparison. It's like I tasted the world's best prime rib and was then forced to eat ground beef for the rest of my life. But maybe I just haven't looked hard enough for the right spot.

For this July 4th holiday, I spoke with a variety of fireworks experts, including Julie Heckman, head of the American Pyrotechnics Association, Lansden E. Hill Jr., the CEO of Pyro Shows and Philip Butler of Fireworks by Grucci to get the lowdown on the industry and to find out where the most awe-inspiring (and thereby some of the most expensive) fireworks displays could be found. Some of their answers weren't a big surprise: It makes sense that New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. would make the list. But other cities, like Nashville and Addison, Texas, shouldn't be underestimated when it comes to their pyrotechnic prowess.

Making the rockets red glare and bombs burst in air is not cheap, however. Fourth of July celebrations can cost anywhere from about $10,000 for a standard small town fireworks display to several million dollars for multi-day patriotic extravaganzas that sometimes even require corporate sponsors (hello Macy's). And organizers can spend several hundred thousand dollars reimbursing the city for services such as police overtime and clean up crews. Barges (for displays over water), pyrotechnic technicians, symphonies and celebrity entertainers can also add to the costs of honoring America's independence.

While many of the organizers wouldn't disclose how much they are spending on this year's festivities, here are the must-see shows industry insiders say run some of the biggest tabs.

New York
With more than 40,000 shells from all over the world expected to go off over the Hudson River, Macy's (M) 34th annual patriotic extravaganza is thought to be the costliest and most explosive in the U.S. In fact, Macy's bills the show "as the nation's largest display of pyrotechnic firepower."

Musical guests include teen heartthrob Justin Beiber, the New York Pops and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The show will be broadcast on NBC. "Macy's 4th of July Fireworks, along with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are two of our signature events." says Orlando Veras, a spokesman, in an email. "They are part of our DNA and we will continue to produce them for years to come."

And since Macy's foots the bill, onlookers won't have to worry about just how much this is costing them in annual taxes. Veras, however, wouldn't comment on the size of that bill.

Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love has two big accomplishments for which it is most proud: the Phillies making it to the World Series for two straight years and its pivotal place in American history. Philadelphia, where the Founding Fathers ratified the Declaration of Independence, had a fireworks show on June 26 and will continue to have displays on July 3 and July 4 near the Philadelphia Art Museum (the one made famous in the Rocky movies).

Putting on the 11-day Welcome America Celebration has not been easy this year. Longtime sponsor Sunoco Inc.. (SUN) bowed out and luckily, the Wawa convenience store chain -- a favorite among people in the Philadelphia area -- stepped in.

"Wawa Welcome America has always been budget conscious particularly in light of the financial difficulties faced by the City since 2009," says Melanie Johnson, the festival's executive director, in an email. "We continued to aggressively fundraise to be able to put on the event and we made cuts and changes as appropriate."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter says the festival's expenses have been cut from roughly $3 million to about $2.1 million now, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Many of those savings stem from changes made by Johnson, including shortening the length of the parade, changing its location, and cutting construction costs to build the stage for the July Fourth concert ," according to the newspaper.

Boston
Boston spares no expense on its annual fireworks show. David Mugar, who organizes the event, says the 37th annual July 4 shindig will cost $2.5 million. Included in that price tag, will be performances by the Boston Pops and country crooner Toby Keith. "[It's] a colorful way to see your money go up in smoke," jokes Mugar.

If you can't make it to Bean Town to watch the 37th annual July 4 shindig you can catch it on CBS, where the televised show will be hosted by late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson. The final 20 minutes of the broadcast, featuring the fireworks display, will be presented commercial-free by sponsor Liberty Mutual Group which recently awarded grants to cities who were unable to afford to celebrate the Fourth otherwise.

Seattle
The 2010 Family Fourth on Lake Union was saved from the budgetary axe this year after a fundraising drive by a local talk show host Dave Ross and restaurateur Tom Douglas netted $500,000. To avoid future fundraising problems, organizers are already soliciting donations for next year's show.

This year's headliners are local alternative rockers the Presidents of the United States of America (remember that song Peaches?). What can be more patriotic?

Washington D.C.
Anyone who has the chance to see the Fourth of July fireworks in our nation's capital should do it. The crowds are huge and the year I went it was ungodly hot, but in the end it was worth it. Seeing the National Mall light up on a dark summer night was unbelievable.

A Capital Fourth has been shown for 30 years on PBS. This year the show will be hosted by actor Jimmy Smits. Musical guests are going to include Reba McEntire, Gladys Knight, country music singer and former Hootie and the Blowfish member Darius Rucker and David Archuleta (from American Idol fame). The show will also feature the National Symphony Orchestra and a grand finale that will be accompanied by Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," complete with live cannon fire.

Officials for the Washington D.C. event declined to comment on the show's cost but it is considered one of the most extravagant shows in the U.S. by the APA's Heckman. iExplore.com has named it one of the world's best fireworks displays. Several factors place it among the most expensive shows too, including its size and use of celebrity talent.

Nashville
This year's devastating floods have not dampened the patriotic spirit of Music City. In fact, organizers made the party even larger, adding shows on July 2 and July 3. It's a "million dollar production", says Heather Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, who adds that most of the expenses are offset by contributions.

Riverfront Park, overlooking the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville, offers a breathtaking location for the fireworks. The city also made the top 10 list of Roadtrips for Families." Mayor Karl Dean says the city is ready to party. "Nashville began to recover from the flood almost immediately after the rain stopped falling on May 3," he says in a statement.

Fort Bragg, N.C.

The military base, which traditionally has one of the largest Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S., is welcoming residents from nearby towns who were forced to cancel their Independence Day celebrations because of budget issues this year.

Besides the usual carnival rides and other attractions, the base will host a concert by the hard rock band Chevelle. One soldier based at Ft. Bragg is chosen to represent his or her state in a presentation of colors. The celebration will include a demonstration by the Golden Knights, the US Army parachute team. Of course, the 82nd Airborne Division All American Band will play the 1812 Overture. Media reports say the patriotic displays at the largest U.S. military base will last an hour.

Pasadena, Calif.
Many people know the Rose Bowl for hosting some of the greatest games of football, but few outside of Southern California realize that it is also a great place to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July. California's largest patriotic shindig at the Rose Bowl costs between $350,000 and $400,000 says Darryl Dunn, the stadium's general manager. "Our goal is to break even every year," says Dunn.

America Fest 2010 will solute the men and women of the armed forces. Tickets are $13 to watch inside the Rose Bowl though thousands watch the fireworks for free from outside the stadium. Active duty military personnel get in free. The show has over 5,000 pyrotechnic effects and is sponsored by Honda. The show operates without a public subsidy.

Emina Darakjy, a local volunteer who will be honored at the festivities this year, has kept it going. "In 2001, the 75th anniversary of the event was in jeopardy due to lack of funding. Darakjy took on the challenge to seek donations from her friends and personal contacts and every year has raised thousands of dollars, this year close to $60,000," according to a press release.

Addison, Texas
Kaboom Town, a major fireworks display that occurs in Addison, Texas, is expected to cost $240,000 this year. About $50,000 of that budget will go toward fireworks and as much as $55,000 will pay for police overtime, according to Barbara Kovacevich, who is in charge of the event.

Home to Mary Kay Cosmetics, the bustling Dallas suburb of about 15,000 has been hosting the event for the past 25 years. The fireworks show is one of the biggest in Texas, attracting about 400,000 people each year, and has been recognized for years by the national media and the American Pyrotechnics Association. The show is funded by a local tax which officials says pays for itself in increased business for local restaurants and hotels.

"We have people call ahead six months to find out what the (hotel) rates are going to be six months in advance," says Kovacevich. "We kind of look at it as a branding opportunity for the town."

Honorable Mentions
The Gruccis, who call themselves the First Family of Fireworks, will be doing three highly-elaborate shows this weekend. On July 2, there will be at Ceasar's Pier Shops on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The next day, the company will make the bombs burst in air at Eisenhower Park in Uniondale, New York, followed by a July 4 show at another New Jersey casino, the Borgata Hotel Casio & Spa. Fireworks by Grucci also does a fair number of what it calls National Shows.

"Once you have enjoyed either of these programs, you are forever spoiled," says Phillip Butler, a Grucci executive.

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