Dayton cancels July 4 festival, cites staffing, safety; fireworks will go on
May 25—Dayton has canceled a Fourth of July festival that dates back nearly a decade and typically attracts tens of thousands of visitors because officials say the city does not have sufficient staffing levels to make sure the event goes off without a hitch.
"We don't feel comfortable with staffing shortages that we would have enough resources to conduct a successful Lights in Flight festival this year," said Joe Parlette, Dayton's deputy city manager.
The fireworks show will still take place, but the festival that usually leads up to it will not. Downtown Dayton has hosted a Fourth of July festival since 2003, but it used to be run by Cityfolk.
Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr. said nixing the festival was a precautionary step because of safety and resource concerns.
The mayor said it's important that Dayton offers fun experiences and events that bring together people from all across the community. But he said the city will always try to err on the side of caution, as all it takes is few troublemakers to spoil large family-friendly events, and the city did not want to risk that this year, especially given low staffing levels. The mayor said he hopes and believes the festival will return in the future.
The downtown festival usually requires a significant police presence, plus many other city employees, and police staffing is historically low because of high attrition and a large number of retirements, Parlette said.
The festival is a drain on city resources and ties up police personnel since about 40 police officers usually are assigned to patrol the footprint of the festival, he said.
The festival has attracted 50,000 to 60,000 visitors some years.
The Dayton Police Department during the July 4th holiday often receives complaints about illegal fireworks being set off and other dangerous activities, like guns being shot into the air.
Last Fourth of July, there was a large car meet-up and parking lot takeover at Gettysburg Plaza in northwest Dayton, where officials said people shot off high-grade fireworks and participated in dangerous "hooning" and "automobile circus acts."
Hooning activities and the large crowds that gather around them to watch are dangerous to everyone involved, as well as to police officers who respond and unsuspecting passers-by, said James Rider, a police information specialist.
"The Fourth of July is one holiday that elevates the risk of injury to everyone including children," he said. "We see first-hand the injuries caused by dangerous fireworks."
Making people feel safe coming downtown is a high priority for local leaders and the business community.
Safety perceptions of downtown were hurt last fall when someone fired a gun into the air during the children's parade at the Dayton Holiday Festival, which sent waves of people running in search of safety.
Dayton's Lights in Flight festival last year ran from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday July 3 at RiverScape MetroPark, and the event featured live musical acts, food and merchandise vendors and a variety of family-friendly activities.
The festival was cancelled because of COVID in 2020 but returned in 2021. In 2021, the festival ran from noon to 10 p.m.
The city started the Fourth of July Lights in Flight festival in 2014 to replace the annual Cityfolk Fourth of July celebration, which used to lead up the city's fireworks show but was discontinued because the organization ran into financial troubles.
Cityfolk's downtown Fourth of July festival began in 2003, but the organization used to host a June festival prior to that.
Parlette said it is disappointing that the festival will not happen this year, but the fireworks show will go on.
He said the best viewing spots will be at Kettering Field, where fireworks will be set off for the second consecutive year. Before last year, fireworks had been shot from Deeds Point, across from RiverScape.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said no one is happy that the festival had to be cancelled, but the city thoroughly reviewed and analyzed its ability to put on a safe and well-run event and concluded it does not have the staff to do that.
"We are hopeful as well that the festival can come back," she said. "But we support the city's decision after they looked at their staffing issues and what they can and cannot do."