Chicago fireworks: New night, 3 spots, big crowds

July 5, 2010 (CHICAGO) One took place at Navy Pier, one at Montrose Beach on the North Side and one at 63rd Street Beach on the South Side.

By all accounts, spectators were pleased with the change, with the added benefit of dispersing a once-giant crowd into three smaller ones.

"It was one of the best I have seen in my life. The smiley faces, the hearts, it really touched me. I really enjoyed it," Eric Maltbia said of the fireworks.

"It's fantastic, we have been here about ten years," said Steve Keown. "Smaller than it used to be, but still great to come down here."

"I think it was awesome. I don't think I would have seen a better one than this," said Mauricio Garcia.

At Navy Pier, there were plenty of activities for children and adults to do up until the fireworks show, including a beach, a beer garden and cruise boats for people wanting to watch the fireworks from the water.

Police were out in full force, and because of a huge crowd, they closed off the pier just before the show. By 7 p.m., it was so crowded that the Chicago Fire Department shut down access to more vehicles and pedestrians.

"They closed it before we got here. That's alright. We got a good spot. We saw your truck," said Kim Drury.

Police saw a similar situation at 63rd Street as well.

The fireworks shows did start simultaneously and on schedule, delighting the assembled crowds. The show was set to a musical score that played in all three locations.

The new plan was also aimed at reducing security problems that have troubled the city's Fourth of July celebrations in the past.

"We got together, two families. We grew up together and we know each other for like 30 years," said Geronimo Garcia. "We got here at eight in the morning. We set up a little spot with the shade, beach."

There was no immediate estimate on the number of people in the crowds watching the fireworks.

While there were still traffic jams on the roads coming from the fireworks sites, the initial appearance was that the situation was at least somewhat more manageable than in previous years.

Many Chicago suburbs also launched fireworks on the Fourth of July, including north suburban Skokie, where the first 10,000 people to show up got 3-D glasses to watch the show.

There was a picnic and concert earlier in the day in Skokie.

Taste of Chicago wraps up

At the Taste on the last day, there was quite a bit of walking room, which suited attendees.

One vendor said Sunday that the Taste was a great success for her.

"Very exciting, got a lot of exposure," said Anna Fedus of Shokolad. "We gave out a lot of menus, and I think at the end of it we're probably going to double the size of our customers."

The smaller crowd from the Taste could have stemmed partly from the city's new plan to launch fireworks at three locations. People were seen barbecuing and staking out their spots early Sunday at the fireworks sites.

The food festival in Grant Park closed at 7 p.m. Saturday in an effort to ensure public safety. Chicago police had security on hand to make sure all went smoothly.

"We canceled everybody's day off for [the Fourth of July], and that will give us over 600 additional officers, and we needed to do that just to cover the territory," said Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis. "Again, it does stretch our resources out a little bit, and we don't know right now where the largest crowds will go to, so we wanted to have a reserve force."

Referring to Thursday's spate of violence, when 22 people were arrested and three stabbed in the Grant Park area, Weis once again insisted that the events were an anomaly, and that for the most part the Taste of Chicago had gone smoothly, with the number of arrests slightly below last year's levels.

"We don't want to get caught behind the eight ball where something's maybe already started looking a challenge for us, and then try to call people in when they're on their days off," said Weis.

Weis spoke Sunday afternoon about positioning officers with fireworks launching at three different locations during the evening. He said that police had made 55 arrests at the Taste of Chicago, nine of which were for felonies.

Taste of Chicago attendees had mixed views on security.

"I have not seen a big police presence, actually," said Melissa Morreale. "And when we did come in they really didn't do that through a check with our baggage."

"I'm glad that they are actually enforcing security a little more. It looks like they're actually taking care of business this year," said Adewale Langston.

The separate fireworks displays account for the Taste of Chicago being open only from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on the last day of the festival. The closing time was intended to give people time to get to the display of their choice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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