July 2010

Fired Up About FIREWORKS

Author: Hilary Kraus

TOURISTS LOVE IT.
ISLANDERS SUPPORT IT.
STORE AND RESTAURANT OWNERS DEPEND ON IT.

It’s Tuesday night fireworks at HarbourFest, an event that has attracted thousands of people to Shelter Cove Harbour for more than 20 years.

But this summer, the pyrotechnic shows have been scaled back to eight Tuesdays rather than 12, due to a drop in sponsorships and rising event costs, organizers said. The July 4 show remains on the schedule.

More cutbacks could be necessary in the future if more people don’t help pay for the event, said Bret Martin, vice president of Greenwood Communities and Resorts. Revenue generated by sponsors and vendor fees has dropped an estimated 30 to 40 percent since 2008, according to Martin.

“We think we’re going to be at a significant deficit again this year, even with the reduction of nights,” Martin said. “I don’t think fireworks night will be eliminated, but it can continue to diminish, based off the revenues.”

This year’s first show was on June 22, two weeks later than past years. The remaining dates are July 6, 13, 20, 27, August 3, 10 and Sunday, July 4.

HarbourFest, which is a nightly festival of arts and craft, food and live entertainment, dates back to 1988. Tuesday has always been reserved for fireworks, although Thursday was added one summer. The event was originally organized by Greenwood to promote the newly developed Shelter Cove Harbour.

Jimmy Liggett, owner of the Parrot Cove Seafood Grill and Bar, said customers began asking about the fireworks in early June. “It’s what people are used to and what they come to do. It’s become a tradition here,” said Liggett, who has worked in the harbor since 1986.

Parrot Cove is one of about 20 businesses that are members of the Shelter Cove Merchants Association. The group, along with Greenwood Communities and Resorts and the Shelter Cove Harbour Company, is comprised of longstanding sponsors of the event which costs about $10,000 every Tuesday and $18,000 for the July 4 fireworks.

Organizers and sponsors say the island-wide happening needs the support of the other businesses that benefit from the foot traffic generated by the fireworks, but who are not helping foot the bill. The Town of Hilton Head contributes some money.

“Everyone piggybacks on us,’’ said Lynn Alexander, owner of Nash Gallery and a member of the Shelter Cove Merchants Association. “Tuesday night fireworks will not survive without the help of sponsors and the town. The town also needs to realize this is a tourist attraction.”

Bill Baldwin, director of sales and marketing for Dunes Marketing Group is another sponsor who is urging more participation from the town. Dunes Marketing Group, a real estate company that has two offices at Shelter Cove Harbour, has been giving money to HarbourFest since its inception 22 years ago.

Baldwin said he’d like to see dinner cruises that bring customers to the shows and nearby restaurants with views of the fireworks pitch in.

“There are generations of people who come to Hilton Head Island who look forward to fireworks and go there on Tuesday night. It’s really an island event,” Baldwin said. “We want bring tourism here. That’s the lifeblood of Hilton Head Island.”

Organizers asked for $35,000 per year in funds from the town to offset costs for fireworks, traffic management and operation expenses such as clean-up and trash removal from the large crowds, said Kozemchak, director of marketing for Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, a Greenwood company. The town contributed $8,200 in 2008 and $7,625 in 2009.

Hilton Head mayor, Tom Peeples, said around the same amount has been allotted for this year to help pay for the July 4 fireworks. The town also gives money for the two other July 4 fireworks shows on the island, Peeples said.

Peeples, however, questioned why the town is being asked to give more for Shelter Cove Harbour’s entertainment. “A lot of things are huge tourism draws we don’t pay for,” Peeples said. “Where’s the logic in paying for it? Why don’t we pay for (entertainer) Gregg Russell in Harbour Town—I put that right there on par—or entertainment at Coligny Plaza?” Peeples asked.

“As everyone know, Shelter Cove Harbour is a non-gated community, open to the public destination and over the years the Tuesday night fireworks event has become an island-wide, non-exclusive event attracting over 5,000 people from throughout the island and beyond,” said Kozemchak. Restaurant business increases by at least 10 percent, according to Martin. Vendors make money selling everything from Hilton Head memorabilia to hand puppets. And musician Shannon Tanner draws crowds that spill over into all parts of the harbor.

“The truth is, HarbourFest is the single biggest event in regard to tourism in the summertime,” said Tanner, who has been entertaining fans at HarbourFest five nights a week since it began, “It’s not just for tourists. I’ve had grandfathers and grandmothers come up to me and tell me they bring their families every year.”

Maryanne Laskowitz, owner of the family-run San Miguel’s Mexican on the Marina, treats Tuesdays like most restaurateurs prepare for New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Laskowitz said instead of the usual 25 workers, the restaurant staffs about 40 employees.

“We talk about Tuesdays all year round and plans for Tuesdays,” Laskowitz said. “It’s a beautiful family event, a family tradition for so many people.”

When Laskowitz heard fireworks nights were in jeopardy, she braced for the worst. “The rumor around the harbor was the fireworks would be cut out altogether,” she said. “When they came back with eight, it was a relief. I said ‘I’ll take eight.’”

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