CRESWELL – The City of Creswell is considering what it would take to stage a safe and affordable Fourth of July Celebration.
The Creswell Chamber of Commerce traditionally organized the celebration – that is, until the pandemic shut down tourism and the revenue associated with it. The Chamber has been nearly dormant for the past year, and with only two of the seven required board members, the Chamber is incapable of organizing the 2021 event.
Last year’s celebration – popular throughout Oregon as a holiday destination – was canceled because of the pandemic. “Homegrown” events sprouted throughout town to fill the gaps. The City organized contests for pets, home decorating and sidewalk art, and a group of community members organized a “people’s parade.”
Parade: ‘I feel caution’
Council at this week’s meeting considered the benefits and drawbacks of community members organizing a parade in a similar fashion to last year’s events, and also how the City might take the lead.
Whether it’s community or City-organized, pulling a permit to have a parade on Oregon Avenue brings crowds, and the parade taking an unofficial route through town could cause traffic hazards, said Michelle Amberg, city manager.
“I feel caution about the parade because we don’t want crowds of people gathering,” Amberg said. “Depending on what (county safety) level we’re in by then, we’ll be able to have more people but will not be able to have the 20,000 people that normally come into town; we will maybe be able to handle more like 250,” Amberg said.
Raina Napper, chamber president, said that even if the City were able to pick up July 4th activities this year, organizing a parade from a legal standpoint “is not a good choice in these pandemic events … I have a real hesitation with that.”
The Bohemia Mining Days in Cottage Grove canceled its parade and is instead having static activities in the park, and the Rhododendron Festival in Florence has also been canceled, “So, we wouldn’t be alone in discouraging a parade,” Amberg said.
Amberg warned that parades can be dangerous without crowd control, and that there have been instances in other cities where children were struck by floats.
“We tried to work with the parade committee last year and encouraged them to get the permit. They wanted to just have a more spontaneous type of parade, which worked out, except for some of the problems with the traffic congestion,” Amberg said.
Council president Kevin Prociw agreed. “I was doing neighborhood patrol during the last one …. If (the fire department) or EMS needed to get into any of the areas where that was going on, they just wouldn’t be able to.”
The rolling parade last year impeded traffic, and encouraged people to enjoy the parade from home. The 2020 parade also included Confederate flags, signs and flags for the debunked conspiracy group QAnon, and other white militia group iconography.
The concern with having the parade come down Oregon Avenue is the crowds, councilors said.
“There’s a lot of restrictions we put on the parade to make sure that it’s safe, whereas if you have a spontaneous parade driving through town, and people are just watching it from their yards, that’s a whole lot different,” Amberg said.
Council considered alternative ways to host a parade without blocking the streets or encouraging crowds. If people were interested in putting in the work, they could organize a series of mini parades. There would be fewer cars lined up at once and could cover more ground. “People really enjoyed having the parade go by their house,” Amberg said.
Councilor Alonzo Costilla said that whether or not the City approves of it, “the parade is probably going to happen with the folks doing it themselves anyway, and it will probably grow a little.”
“The people who tried it last year really put in a lot of effort and are not doing it again this year,” Amberg said.
Councilor Joe Medina said that the City should look at its options for taking on the parade itself, and get “maybe a couple of volunteers to organize ... If we can do (the parade), great. If there are restrictions and for some reason we can’t … but we’ve got to try something.”
“If you’re thinking city staff would do that on the Fourth of July, we’d have to pay overtime for holiday time … We don’t have any staff that’s dedicated to parks and recreation or any kind of activities like that,” Amberg said. “And that’s an incredibly busy part of the year for us; it’s the end of our fiscal year and the beginning of the new fiscal year, so staffing could be a real problem.”
“If we don’t do nothing, then we’re kind of really dropping the ball. I mean, if I have to give up time to … make sure something happens, I’ll do whatever it takes,” Medina said.
“What we can do is kind of limited,” Prociw said. “All we can do is provide leadership and encouragement, because the council itself isn’t trying to take on any of the actual work here.”
Mayor Amy Knudsen recalled the Emergency Preparedness Fair in 2018. “That was a big endeavor that took almost two years for council and staff to organize and to implement, and it took a lot of volunteers. And looking back, it seemed more appropriate to have an event planner do that, versus taking up counsel time and staff time. We budgeted for it; it really wasn’t a huge cost item, but it was a lot of time and effort.”
“I think everyone underestimates what it takes to put on the parade. It is a massive undertaking. It is by far the most complicated part of the Fourth of July,” Amberg said. “This is probably not something that the City can even begin to take on; the number of volunteers it takes is tremendous.”
The budget: Tax shortfalls
The $9,000 already is secured in the Chamber’s budget for the fireworks show, Napper said, but because the Chamber does not have enough members to legally function, it cannot vote to reallocate the fireworks money to the City.
Amberg recommended that the City keep the total costs for July 4th below $15,000 because that’s what the transient room tax is this year, which is half of what it normally would be. That transient room tax money must be spent on tourism, and Amberg questioned whether this year’s event would even qualify. “We could call (July 4th) a tourism event but that would be kind of stretching it because it would be more of a hometown event,” she said.
Further, she said that “this doesn’t really help our businesses too much here in town. A lot of people want to be closed on the Fourth of July. And a lot of the businesses want to participate in the Fourth of July themselves and have barbecues and be with their family. “
Last year the City gave every house in Creswell four free shaved ice coupons and had three trucks driving around town. The City last year also hosted a static air display at the Hobby Field Airport. The City also hosted contests for pets, home decorating and artwork. “It all costs money,” Amberg said, noting that the shaved ice bill last year alone was $15,000.
“Since the Fourth of July is in the next fiscal year, we could budget it in next fiscal year’s budget,” Amberg said. “Nothing would come out of this fiscal year’s budget as far as planning or putting it together … if we wanted to do that, certainly we could work with the Chamber and – provided the school district is cooperative as our partner – we can see if we make the fireworks go off.”
Even if the City could obtain the Chamber’s money for July 4th events, “I would hesitate to use the Chamber’s funds,” Amberg said. “They’re going to need the funds to get back up on their feet if they’re going to do that. And in truth, the money came from the city to start with under the contract that we had with them for tourism. So the Chamber has to make some decisions about how to use that tourism money, they could use it for special events or they could open their tourism kiosk here in town to help tourists who come to town, and they could staff it with people, but the truth of the matter is, they’re not going to have much money from the city to be able to get started.”
The City will draw up costs of airport activities and city-run contests, and staff time for council consideration for an upcoming city council work session.