For the first time in more than four decades, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway won’t host an Independence Day fireworks display, citing an abundance of events in the city that weekend.
The racino will instead help produce the annual fireworks put on at Congress Park on the Fourth of July, rather than hosting its own display, which traditionally occurs on July 3. Racino spokeswoman Rita Cox said the decision was made after it became clear other events in the city — including popular jam-band Phish’s three shows at the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center — will draw enormous crowds.
“There are an inordinate amount of large events taking place in Saratoga Springs this holiday weekend,” she said Tuesday. “This [change] is because there are so many things happening that night we didn’t think it was in the best interest of the community . . . to have yet another thing happening at the same time.”
The racino will fund Saratoga’s All-American Celebration Inc., the community-led nonprofit organization that has arranged the traditional Independence Day celebration in Saratoga Springs since 2010. The annual fireworks display in Congress Park will be coordinated by Alonzo Fireworks of Mechanicville, according to the racino.
The display touched off annually at the harness track draws up to 20,000 spectators to the area around the 161-acre property off Jefferson Street. Cox said the decision to cancel the display this year is strictly about the logistics of having the display at a time when tens of thousands of concert-goers will also be arriving in the city for the first night of Phish.
“This is about this year right now,” she said. “What happens next year is to be determined.”
Last year, Phish drew an estimated 25,000 fans per night to the Saratoga Spa State Park during the band’s three-day stint in the city. But the performances started on July 5 — the day after the city’s fireworks and two nights after the racino display.
This year’s tour stop in Saratoga Springs begins on Thursday, July 3 and continues through the band’s finale on Saturday, July 5. The performances are generally marked by traffic snarls near the park’s Avenue of the Pines entrance, which is about a mile away from the racino.
“This is strictly about what can be done in our community over one of the largest holiday weekends of the year,” Cox said. “We don’t believe it would be a good decision to move forward with something that taxes our community on that level.”
The Independence Day celebration in the city will consist of a variety of activities downtown, including the Firecracker Road Race, a parade, the All-American BBQ & Dessert tasting festival, a classic car show and historic tours. The events will culminate with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the traditional fireworks display in Congress Park at dusk.
The Congress Park display was traditionally organized by the city’s Department of Public Works. City officials considered doing away with the display in 2007 due to its cost and a host of other fireworks in the area, but ultimately opted to continue the display after hearing opposition from residents.
In 2010, several city residents volunteered to form a not-for-profit group to take over the fireworks display from the city. Saratoga’s All-American Celebration Inc. was formed and has since expanded the fireworks into an all-day event funded solely by donations.
“Our annual All-American Celebration is funded entirely by generous donations from local partners like Saratoga Casino and Raceway,” said Kate Jarosh, the president of the Board of Directors for Saratoga’s All-American Celebration.