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Downtown business, neighbors excited about Rhythm and Booms' move

Published On: Jul 17 2013 06:14:44 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 18 2013 04:22:48 PM CDT

MADISON, Wis. -

John Nolen Drive will shut down, huge crowds will flood downtown, and loud blasts will explode in the same lake Leigh Meier lives near -- and Meier is excited.

"That'd be great," Meier said. "I mean, I'd love it if it was right here on the lake."

The Lakeside Court neighbor usually spends the Fourth of July scoping the lake for a good vantage point. This year, her pontoon can stay docked because Rhythm and Booms is moving to Lake Monona.

After the fireworks show became controversial among neighbors at its former home at Warner Park on the north side, city officials and event organizers decided to move it.

The 1.6-mile-long Independence Day celebration will block John Nolen Drive in both directions. Two lanes will be reserved for fireworks observers, while the other lanes will house food, drinks, and bathrooms, as well as easy access for police patrol.

Meier is happy to see the event take on a livelier presence, after this year's Rhythm and Booms at Warner Park didn't include anything but the fireworks.

Organizers with Madison Festivals, Inc., scaled back the event and ended beer sales, a carnival and live music to address neighbors' concerns.

But this year's event didn't make money, said Rita Kelliher, the organization's president.

"Sometimes things run their course in certain locations or evolve into something that is no longer manageable or fundable," Kelliher said, "and I think this is what occurred this year and recently at Warner Park."

The decision to consolidate Madison's fireworks show downtown means the city will not sponsor the annual display at Elver Park on the southwest side.

The area's alderwoman, Lisa Subeck, agreed that downtown was a great spot for fireworks, but said her side of town needs a good event to bring the community together.

"Unfortunately it really is coming at the expense of neighborhoods that have always had this gathering that has been such a benefit to our part of the city," she said.

Subeck said she hoped Mayor Paul Soglin would reconsider and allow the city to continue sponsoring the Elver Park event.

Soglin will continue discussions about that and isn't "shutting down" the idea of neighborhoods hosting other shows, said Katie Crawley, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

Crawley said the Madison Mallards are talking about putting on a smaller fireworks display at Warner Park.

Vern Stenman, the team's president, said he wasn't ready to comment about the possibility, but said he may have something to say on Thursday at a north side neighborhood meeting.

Even though many north side neighbors didn't like the disruption to their community, John Lehman said he knew plenty of people who loved it.

The day before the fireworks show was one of the busiest days of the year for his business, Jim's Meat Shop on Northport Drive.

"We're a little disappointed," he said. "We did very well with Rhythm and Booms on this side of town."

Coliseum Bar manager Mike Klinkhammer said his restaurant is already planning for Rhythm and Booms on June 28, 2014.

"For it to be across the street and then close John Nolen, it's going to be a lot more business for us, which we're actually really excited about," Klinkhammer explained. "We've already talked about doing things like a DJ or a band outside, some activities for kids in our sand volleyball court, things like that."

Klinkhammer said this call is also in line with city efforts to expand business in the area. He said the week of July 4 is typically slow.

Meier said after years of races and other events shutting down the section of John Nolen Drive closest to her, this is just another day to get through with a few more transportation challenges.

"I think (Rhythm and Booms) is a tradition in Madison, so I think we need to figure out some way to do it," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Monona Terrace said two wedding receptions are already scheduled at the venue on the day of the fireworks show. The brides didn't return messages seeking comment.

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