The fate of Rhythm & Booms is still up in the air following a community meeting Thursday night at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center.
About 100 people packed a community room, and more than two dozen people spoke. And yes, there were fireworks; the rhetorical kind.
“I still get excited about this event and I’m in my 30s,” said Ben Werner, 33, who lives in the neighborhood. “It’s a Madison staple. What else does the North Side have to be proud of?”
Speakers were almost evenly divided on the event, with slightly more supporting the 20-year-old fireworks extravaganza held in celebration of Independence Day each summer at Warner Park.
Those who would like to see the show scaled back, canceled or moved to a different part of town spoke of environmental concerns, noise, public drunkenness, crime, traffic, and illegal fireworks set off before and after the event.
Maria Powell, who has a Ph.D. from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, spoke of the impact of firework debris on wildlife, aquatic life and water quality in the park for what she called a “short-term visual thrill.”
Powell, who lives close by, questioned whether the city could afford to help pay for the fireworks show at the expense of the homeless, Metro Transit, and other city services. “Is it really worth it?” she asked.
Madison Fireworks Fund President Terry Kelly was out of town but had a statement distributed at the meeting, which was read by Fireworks Fund Vice President Deb McCue.
He said his group is proposing a “fireworks only” event this summer with only neighborhood events during the day like the “Run to the Rhythm” charity run/walk, a bicycle parade, and a bingo tent.
Rhythm & Booms was downsized last year when the city and Fireworks Fund agreed to drop the carnival and delay the pre-fireworks festivities until 5 p.m.
After the meeting, local Alds. Anita Weier and Satya Rhodes-Conway said that the meeting provided helpful input and creative ideas, but neither has taken a position on the fireworks show. Mayor Paul Soglin declined to comment Thursday.
Andrew Hovde, 24, who grew up in the neighborhood, pointed out that Rhythm & Booms is only one day of the year. Addressing those who complain about the noise and drunkenness, he said, “I was a student at UW-Madison. Just go Downtown any night of the week.”
Gene Sheets, 83, had a suggestion for those who said it should be held someplace else. “Maybe we should use Terry Kelly’s backyard.”
State Journal reporter Jeff Glaze contributed to this report.