CHAMPAIGN — This year's Independence Day fireworks will be back at the University of Illinois, and the 5K race and parade will be moved up two hours to avoid the heat, the new president of the Champaign County Freedom Celebration Committee said Monday.
The evening fireworks show had been moved from the UI's Stadium Terrace area, west of Memorial Stadium, to Parkland College after 2006 because of construction on the stadium. And there wasn't any discussion of moving it back until this year, said Ginny Schlorff, president of the all-volunteer group.
"We brought it back this year to take a look at it and the U of I was open to it. They're wanting to do things with the community and work with the cities," she said. "We had a real nice meeting."
It's still not certain where the fireworks show will be held. The old site at Stadium Terrace is out because much of it is now athletic fields covered with artificial turf.
"Right now we're looking at E-14," the large paved parking lot west of the Assembly Hall, Schlorff said. "That has been our suggestion. We met with the folks at the U of I and the different police departments. We like E-14 because the city planners did the map and the fireworks clearance is good. You have to have so many feet of clearance for the fireworks. And if it's on concrete, it is easier to clean up the cardboard shell casings. I think that will be a good spot.
"The only negative is that we will lose parking. We'll lose that whole (E-14) parking lot and we probably won't be able to use the two west quadrants of the Assembly Hall parking lots. But I think people watch these fireworks from everywhere and somehow when it's at the U of I, I think people don't mind parking and walking."
Another problem leaving Parkland, she said, is that it will be more difficult to collect money from those watching the fireworks.
"We're just going to have to increase our corporate sponsorships," she said, "and look at other ways of raising money."
Schlorff said she expects that the Independence Day planning will be firmed up after a Jan. 9 meeting with officials from the two cities and the UI.
For now, she said, plans are to begin the Fourth of July 5K race at 9 a.m. and the parade at 11 a.m. The parade has begun at 1:05 p.m. ever since the first Freedom Celebration in 1950.
"It's kind of like, why has it been at 1 p.m. for some 60 years?" she said, laughing. "Everybody said it was a great idea. It was an a-ha moment. I just thought, 'We should have done this before.'
"The reason is because of the heat," she said. "It was one of those things like doing the parade backwards (another change the committee made a few years ago when it started the parade at the Assembly Hall parking lot and ended it in Urbana). Once you think about it, it's like, why not? Why didn't we do this years ago? I think this will be well-received."
She said she believes attendance at the parade was down last year when the high temperature on July 4 was 100 degrees at 1:32 p.m.
"I think our numbers were down last year because of the heat, and it was one of the best parades in a long time. We're hoping that if it's cooler, we'll get more people out," she said. "Plus, little kids nap in the afternoon so if we're doing it earlier, we hope we can draw some of those families too."
This year's parade will again feature large, cold-air balloons that were a part of the festivities for the first time last year.
"That was well-received and it went great," Schlorff said. "I think we will have at last three of those again."