By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo’s longstanding July 4 celebration, held for 26 consecutive years at Ballard Park, is moving this year to Fairpark, the official and symbolic center of the city in the heart of downtown.
Leaders of the non-profit association that guides the celebration under the umbrella of the Parks and Recreation Department and the city announced at a Thursday morning press conference that a full celebration is planned for the City Hall plaza area, with free parking throughout downtown and at the nearby BancorpSouth Arena’s sprawling parking lot.
David Dillard, who is chairman of the organizing group, announced the change.
Parks and Recreation executive director Don Lewis said that the organizers and sponsors wanted to infuse new energy and creativity into the celebration, whose chief sponsors are the city, North Mississippi Medical Center, Renasant Bank and the KZ103 radio group.
The event, officially the All America City Celebration, features live bands, food vendors and a finale performance by the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra and chorus, with fireworks.
Thousands of people have usually attended the free events, some bringing picnic baskets, blankets and lawn chairs. Lewis said all those opportunities will continue in the downtown setting, whose venue will include a closed-off Main Street from the Kansas City Southern Railroad tracks to Elizabeth Street.
“We are just trying to keep the event fresh, and we decided in front of City Hall was the place to stage it this year,” Lewis said.
Lewis said entertainment will begin at 3:30 p.m. and will include three bands, followed by the symphony and fireworks.
The move, as does every major outdoor civic event, presents challenges, but the downtown area is no stranger to large, concentrated crowds. The Elvis Presley Festival, GumTree Festival and, in a more dispersed area, the annual Reed’s Tupelo Christmas Parade, draw large crowds.
Lewis said one advantage of a downtown location is traffic flow because multiple streets offer better access to main arteries and thoroughfares before and after an event.
Lewis also noted the role the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association could play. Other businesses and groups, if encouraged, also might choose some kind of collaborative, supportive role.
As with the many celebrations at Ballard Park, there is no rain plan. The fireworks will be kept dry, but there’s no guarantee for any other elements of the festivity.