Jun. 15—Portland's annual Fourth of July celebration isn't returning to its full glory yet.
For second year in a row, the city will hold a scaled-back version of the event. Last year, COVID was the culprit; this year, it's a staffing shortage.
The annual fireworks show will go on as usual, with people sitting on the grassy hill of the Eastern Promenade Park or watching from boats or locations around Casco Bay. But there will be no performance by the Portland Symphony Orchestra or other entertainment, as there has been in past years.
City staffing shortages are just too great right now for police, public works and other departments to take on the task of managing and cleaning up the kind of event the city has had in the past, said Jessica Grondin, the city's director of communications.
So instead of an event that has entertainment and the PSO to draw more people, this year's celebration will only feature the fireworks show, just like last year's. In 2020, the fireworks and performances were canceled, because of the pandemic.
Grondin said the city currently has 200 to 250 staff vacancies at any given time, out of a total workforce of 1,300 to 1,400. When the city's July Fourth celebration is held, city staff and police have to close streets, set up barricades, direct traffic, manage vendors, keep order and pick up trash. The city has partnered with various groups on the celebration in the past, including Maine-based sports marketing firm Shamrock Sports and Entertainment, and those organizations usually reimburse the city for staff time, Grondin said. But money is not the issue, Grondin said.
"We just don't have the capacity at the moment to do anything larger," she said Wednesday. "We'd certainly be happy to have conversations in the future about a bigger event."
The city's Fourth of July celebration had been estimated to attract 50,000 or more people to the Eastern Promenade before the pandemic. Last year's scaled-back show of just fireworks drew an estimated crowd of about 15,000.
The Portland City Council unanimously approved an order at its June 6 meeting for the city to host the fireworks display on Monday, July 4, at its usual spot on the Eastern Promenade. The order stated that the celebration would have "no musical performance, VIP Area, or ticketed element" and that the city would not "be providing or managing food vendors as has happened in the past."
Licensed food trucks, however, will be allowed to park in the Cutter Street lot in the park during the event. The show is scheduled to start around 9:15 p.m. The rain date is July 5. Putting on the fireworks show costs the city about $30,000, Grondin said.
Grondin said there was interest from Shamrock in partnering with the city again this year and from the PSO about performing, but city officials felt they needed to go with a smaller event.
Gillian Britt, a spokesperson for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, said Wednesday that the "PSO loves the July 4 concert" and that the organization is "in conversations" about being part of a larger-scale celebration in 2023. Brian Corcoran, chief executive officer of Shamrock Sports and Entertainment, did not respond Wednesday to a phone call and an email asking about his company's July Fourth plans.
The Portland Symphony Orchestra has entertained the crowds before and during the fireworks most years since 2010. The Portland Pops concert also was canceled in 2018 because of a lack of funding, though the rest of the celebration went on as usual. The orchestra returned for the 2019 event.