Libertyfest plans on hold due to scarcity of sponsors in rough economy

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cape Girardeau's annual Independence Day celebration, known as Libertyfest, is in danger.

Planning for the event, which in past years has included activities along the Mississippi River and a fireworks display from a barge anchored near the Illinois shore, is on hold because of the challenge of raising enough money to cover the costs as the economy worsens, said Marla Mills, director of Old Town Cape.

In 2008, Libertyfest was moved to the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport and held jointly with the Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival due to high water conditions. But in 2006, it took more than 50 sponsors to cover the costs, and this year's air show has also been canceled because of economic issues.

"We had to make the decision," Mills said. "Once we make a commitment, we have to find the money to cover the event."

The fireworks portion of the show alone costs about $20,000, Mills said. "We have talked to some of the service clubs and we have looked at the major sponsorships we have gotten in the past," she said. "We have made the decision, but we haven't done an endless search for sponsorships. Part of the issue is time, not just to plan the event but to find the sponsorships. We don't feel we can spend that much time this year."

The Libertyfest event is the latest incarnation of a summer event downtown that was once known as Riverfest. Old Town Cape took over the event in 2003 after more than 20 years of other groups sponsoring Riverfest, which was usually held in June.

Jackson, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans for its annual July 4 fireworks display. The city has up to $5,000 set aside in its budget for the fireworks launched every year from City Park. The money matches funds raised by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, city administrator Jim Roach said.

The budget for the show is determined by the amount the chamber can raise, he said. If the chamber raises $2,000, for example, the city kicks in $2,000, Roach said.

"We are not going to cancel it," said Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce.

While the chamber understands the squeeze higher unemployment is putting on business receipts, canceling the fireworks display is not an option, Gerau said. "If we can't raise enough, we'll cut back on the show."

The goal, Gerau said, will be to provide at least as good a display as in 2007.

Old Town Cape is the city's designated Main Street Program organization. It has taken a lead on developing focus groups and questionnaires related to the city's participation in the DREAM Initiative, a program that is designed to have the planning phase completed this year.

Old Town Cape cannot afford the fireworks out its own budget, Mills said, because much of its funding comes from dedicated grants and contracts.

"It was a very difficult decision for our board," Mills said. "The event has a lot of sentimental meaning and it is not something we wanted to lose."

Old Town Cape would reconsider the decision if sponsors come forward quickly with sufficient pledges to produce the show, she said.


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