Updated Oct. 2, 2012 – 9:30 p.m.
Forest Park’s Fourth of July fireworks show is a victim of its own success, said Park Director Larry Piekarz after the park district canceled the longstanding village tradition for 2013.
“We’ve had the best in the suburbs,” said Piekarz. “One of the attractions of our fireworks was how good they were. We don’t want to look like we just came from Indiana with a box of fireworks.”
In the wake of the decision, Piekarz said he’s been hearing from residents.
“I’ve been getting positive and negative phone calls. There’s not one person who’s not disappointed,” he said.
The park board made the decision at their Sept. 20 meeting, citing the event’s growing crowds and costs. Piekarz said the fireworks show costs $13,000 per year.
The board conferred with police and Mayor Anthony Calderone before making the decision.
“People are telling me, ‘You made a hard decision, glad to see you do it and be proactive instead of waiting for an incident,'” Piekarz said. “Public safety is our first concern.”
He acknowledged that “potential gang activity” was one concern discussed with police and the village. “It was a concern, but not the main concern,” he said.
Forest Park police requested the assistance of 40 additional officers through the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS) to help with patrols during the July 4th display. The visiting officers included arrest teams, weapons teams, line officers and K9 teams, according to the July Village Police Report. The Forest Park K9 unit was also deployed. With local officers, around 80 police were on hand to keep tabs on the event.
Piekarz said they didn’t know how many people had gathered at The Park, but crowds spilling over into residential blocks south of The Park were an indication that the crowds had grown.
“We had police shagging kids out who got into the second floor of the [derelict] Roos building. Now that scares me.”
Police arrested one man carrying illegal brass knuckles and cops picked up several minors who were setting off fireworks and throwing bricks at people and cars in the 1000 block of Thomas Avenue. Also, a Bellwood woman was severely beaten by a boyfriend as a group of people watched the fireworks show nearby in a parking lot on Roosevelt Road.
Meanwhile, embers set fire to a patch of grass between Harlem and Desplaines avenues on the south side of the expressway. The fire was quickly extinguished by Forest Park firefighters.
Piekarz said state police moved people parked on the expressway shoulders to watch the fireworks, and parking lots on Desplaines, Lehmer Street and Roosevelt Road were packed with people. “It’s a small park, and it’s too small for those crowds.”
“Nobody’s more disappointed than the board,” Piekarz said. “They’re lifelong residents of Forest Park and have been going to the fireworks for 30 years.”
He said the park staff were working on proposals for other events on July 3, including a possible concert and family-style cookout.
Piekarz said the decision might be reversible, if the board could figure out a way to bring the fireworks back in a more manageable way.
“Maybe we need to reinvent it, maybe in a year’s time. Maybe we needed to cancel one year to get our ducks back in a row,” he said.
For those who still want to see local fireworks next July 4th, the closest display to Forest Park will be the Oak Park fireworks, held at Oak Park and River Forest High School. North Riverside canceled their fireworks last year.