‘The Final Countdown,’ Knoxville Boomsday tradition dies

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – After a 28 year run, what has been billed as the nation’s largest Labor Day fireworks show is disappearing from Knoxville’s calendar of events.

Tuesday, Visit Knoxville announced this year’s show, appropriately themed “The Final Countdown” will be their last. In the past, Boomsday has been funded by sponsors, but Visit Knoxville says partnerships are dwindling and they are not able to ticket the firework shows.

“If you can’t quantify the crowd. If you can’t say the percent is coming from this part of the area or this is what they like or this is the demographics. It is hard to secure sponsorships in today’s world,” said Bumpas. She also said the festival is attracting more locals than out-of-towners making it a challenge for businesses like the Crown Plaza Hotel. “In the 20 years I’ve been here, I’d bet ona  big Boomsday we might sell an additional five or six rooms at all.,” said Crown Plaza Hotel General manager Ken Knight.More:

“We have looked at various ways to continue the event, but ongoing funding issues related to lack of interest prevents us from obtaining the proper level of sponsor dollars to make the event sustainable,” said president of Visit Knoxville Kim Bumpas, but concedes that since changes last year were not well received they decided it was not a challenge worth trying. She said hard expenses and staffing cost Visit Knoxville around $225,000 per year and last year they lost close to $100,000.

In an effort to fund and “save” Boomsday last year, Visit Knoxville attempted to sell VIP tickets to the event. However, Visit Knoxville was forced to refund tickets after the Tennessee Department of Transportation pointed out to organizers that Neyland could not be fenced off under Tennessee law because it is a state highway.

Visit Knoxville looked at possibilities like moving locations so they could ticket the event before the touch decision was finalized according to Bumpas. “When we started going the problem solving, we just didn’t feel it would be well-received enough to produce the return that we actually need for this event,” she said.

Mayor Madeline Rogero said the change will allow Visit Knoxville to put more time towards other festivals, such as the Festival on the Fourth at World’s Fair Park. The city spends an additional $50,000 per year, mostly in labor and staffing, to help with Boomsday.

“I understand Visit Knoxville’s tough decision to end its sponsorship of Boomsday. This has been a great community event for 28 years, but has proven to not be a sustainable business model that serves Visit Knoxville’s core mission of promoting our city and county to business and recreational travelers,” said Mayor Rogero. “We look forward to working with Visit Knoxville to build on our already successful Festival on the Fourth at World’s Fair Park, as well as other future initiatives to bring visitors to our city.”

The city of Knoxville’s budget for the Festival on the Fourth is $90,000, including $20,000 in sponsorships. The fireworks display for the festival costs roughly $24,000, according to Mayor Rogero.

“We still have a wonderful fireworks display in this community on the Fourth of July. So, we haven’t lost everything, we’re just shifting around and we’re going to find new opportunity,” said Bumpas. She said they hope to grow their partnerships to make events they sponsor or will sponsor bigger and better.

Knox County Commissioner wants to save Boomsday

Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby said he is said to hear that this year will be Boomsday’s last, but he thinks the Labor Day weekend fire work show can be saved.

“Knoxville has truly enjoyed this event, but maybe this isn’t good bye, maybe this is a time to ask Knoxville citizens to step up and sponsor this event,” said Ownby. “The money pours back into our community and schools, so we need it.”

Ownby said he is asking for ideas on how Boomsday can be saved.

Knoxville’s Labor Day festival gets scruffy start

Boomsday started as a small 15 minute show and grew into a spectacular 25 minute fireworks show choreographed to music. A radio station called U 102 came up with the idea in the 1980’s, when Star 102.1 took over the frequency continued the tradition.

Former on air personality Jeff Jarnigan said they were uncomfortable with the large project until the mayor weighed in. “It’s amazing from a show that we didn’t know if we’d have 20,000 to show that regularly gets over a quarter of a million people a year,” said Jarnigan. “Mayor Ashe walked in and said, ‘we aren’t here to discuss if we are going to do this, we are here to discuss how we are going to do this.'”

Ashe said he wanted to focus on water front development and Boomsday seemed like the perfect plan. “To have the fireworks displayed on the Henley Street Bridge was really exciting,” he said. “It’s a way of highlighting the water front and the Tennessee River.”

Jarnigan said during the second year of Boomsday they started to add entertainment and music, but over the years the expense has increased with the show’s popularity. “When tourism guides are putting out articles about this being the place to be on Labor Day, to do away with it is tough,” said Jarnigan.

For festival goers, the loss is still hard. “I’ve always enjoyed going to Boomsday. I grew up going to Boomsday,” said Kate Shriver of Knoxville. “I think it’s a great community event.”

Knoxville resident Kate Schriver said she almost didn’t believe the announcement because it has been such a staple for Knoxville. Others, like Jonathon Jones said he wanted to continue the summer tradition with his kids.

Chris Protzman, the General Manager of Scripps Radio Group, which includes Star 102.1 said even though he is sad to see the show go, he is looking to the future. “You want something that is economically viable to continue and still celebrates the traditions of Knoxville,” he said. “This then presents and opportunity to turn a leaf and brain storm a new idea, a new approach.”

Protzman said they plan on making this year’s show bigger and better than ever.

Schedule of events

The weekend-long series of events will begin September 4 with the Knoxville Powerboat Classic and end on Sunday with Boomsday 2015 starting 3 p.m. Visitors can expect live music, games and food vendors.The evening will wrap up with more than five tons of dynamite lighting to sky to the soundtrack featuring popular music.

“There’s going to be a lot of surprises,” said Bumpas. “We want to pay a huge tribute to a festival or an event that has been a part of our lives for a lot of year and really send it off in a grand way.”

This event is free to the public.Friday, September 4

2015 Knoxville Powerboat Classic at Volunteer Landing, Tennessee River from 10:30 a.m.-noon testing / 1-5 p.m. races

Tennessee Soccer vs Navy at UT’s Regal Soccer Stadium starting at 7 p.m.Saturday, September 5

2015 National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Knoxville Memorial Stair Climb at Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park, starting at 9 a.m.

2015 Knoxville Powerboat Classic at Volunteer Landing along Tennessee River starting at 11 a.m.-noon testing / 1-5 p.m. racesSunday, September 6  

Tennessee Soccer vs Murray State at UT’s Regal Soccer Stadium starting at 6:30 p.m.Boomsday 2015

Volunteer Landing, Neyland Drive

Festivities including family-friendly entertainment and food vendors begin at 3 p.m. Live Music on the Q100.3 Main Stage is presented by Xfinity and Ingles. Artists to be announced. Fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m. with music provided by Star 102.1.

For more information visit Visit Knoxville’s website. 

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