Thousands watch fireworks at Navy Pier

July 4, 2011 8:39:41 PM PDT
Officials estimate that 80,000 people wrapped up the Fourth of July by watching fireworks at Navy Pier -- the only fireworks show in Chicago Monday night.

Chicagoans are used to fireworks along the lakefront, but in an effort to save money, the city did not put on its own fireworks show.

Last year, the fireworks festivities were divided into three, smaller shows at various locations along Lake Michigan. This year, the only lakefront show is at Navy Pier, and Chicago area residents were already getting ready for it Monday morning.

Some people were camped out along Chicago's lakefront with a day's worth of food, just to be sure they had good spots to see the fireworks at night.

"We got up early in morning so we could come and get a real nice spot and wait for the fireworks," Diana Reyes told ABC7 Chicago.

"I was out here yesterday. I knew I needed to be here early in the morning before the crowd comes," said Victoria Johnson, who was already camped out at Navy Pier Monday morning.

Others were hoping to be able to watch from area beaches.

"I hope so. That's why we came to North Avenue. If not, we would've [gone] to the other beach,"Anais Cruz said.

During the Navy Pier fireworks show last year, police had to close the gates because the Pier reached capacity, which is 100,000. Even though more people than usual were expected to attend this year's Fourth of July show, officials did not have to close the pier gates Monday night.

This year, however, the Taste of Chicago wrapped up Sunday, so there was no built-in audience for the fireworks show.

"We can handle 100,000 on the Pier. It is difficult to predict because this is, again, a whole different situation. I anticipate a smaller crowd, yes, than we have had in the past," said OEMC's Gary Schenkel.

"Right now, we're seeing light ridership, which is kind of unusual for us - with the third of July, we usually had very heavy, massive ridership," said Deputy Chief Matthew Tobias of the Chicago Police Department. "Since the Taste is over, there's not going to be that mass of people who leave the Taste of Chicago coming to the Pier or to the lakefront to see the fireworks."

The Park District inherited the Taste of Chicago this year and decided to do away with its fireworks show. Officials say not having city-sponsored fireworks for the Fourth saves more than $100,000 in show production costs alone.

"We had to make some tough decisions this year where we needed to cut corners, just so we could put on a large- scale, family-friendly festival like we have in the past," said the Chicago Park District's Zvezdana Kubat.

Even so, the city's smaller Fourth of July celebration is a welcome change for some families. With the Navy Pier fireworks show held over the weekend, many made a day of it.

"We're going to see a stage show, and then ride the ferris wheel and then waiting for the big fireworks show at 10:15," said Kimberly Downs.

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