Kaaa-BOOM!

330,000 expected for Boomsday, kickoff to UT season

ELLEN MARGULIES | The Ledger

This Labor Day weekend, hundreds of Knoxvillians will be working harder than ever so hundreds of thousands can kick back and relax.

The Tennessee River provides the perfect viewing location for Boomsday fireworks. About 330,000 are expected for this weekend’s event and football game.

(Visit Knoxville)

Knoxville is hosting a huge street festival and one of the biggest fireworks shows in the country on Saturday, followed by the first UT game of the season on Sunday.

Best of all, the city, Visit Knoxville and the University of Tennessee will make the back-to-back celebrations (and yes, the first Big Orange game of the year is always reason to celebrate) look seamless, despite a few last-minute glitches.

That’s no easy feat when you’re trying to entertain a combined 330,000 people for back-to-back events hosted by different organizations in the same vicinity [Volunteer Landing is within walking distance of Neyland Stadium]. Luckily, years of experience and cooperation have helped leaders iron out the kinks.

Far from competing with each other, Boomsday and the Vols-Utah State game, televised on the new SEC Network, will likely boost interest in both events.

“We think it enhances attendance,” says Jeff Maples, UT’s senior associate vice chancellor for finance and administration. “People could come down for Boomsday and stay for the game.”

And people who might not be that familiar with Boomsday – but were planning to cheer on the Vols against Utah State on Sunday night – might decide to drive up a day early and check it out, says Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville, which has overseen the annual Boomsday celebration for the past several years.

This year marks the 26th Boomsday.

Last-minute changes
The seasoned event planners didn’t bat an eye when they learned the SEC Network’s plan to televise the Utah State game meant switching Boomsday from the traditional Sunday before Labor Day to Saturday.

Sunset will give way to fireworks the night of Sept. 30 when the largest Labor Day Weekend fireworks display in the South lights up the Knoxville sky.

(Visit Knoxville)

The trade has happened in the past, so it wasn’t completely unexpected. In many ways, Bumpas sees it as a potential advantage.

“We flip-flopped the dates and partnered with UT for the game, so we’ll have Boomsday and fireworks on Saturday and the game on Sunday,” she explains.

“A lot of people who typically would have only come for the game will be exposed to Boomsday now.

“We were always working in partnership with the university, so it wasn’t really a big deal,” she adds.

Although organizers have been working hard all year to execute their Boomsday vision for 2014, they’re used to rolling with last-minute upsets. Visit Knoxville changed its plans just last month to require $20 tickets for part of this year’s event.

“Obviously, an event of this size takes a year’s worth of planning,” Bumpas says. “We had an initial vision we had launched, and about 30 days ago we had to change that vision. We were going to have a larger program area, and for a $20 fee you would have access to that area” which was to include prime seating for the fireworks show as well as tickets to the Rodney Atkins concert afterward.

Boomsday

Boomsday events are free. Tickets to the after-party and concert are $20. Information: www.boomsday.org.

3 p.m. – Boomsday festivities begin on Neyland Drive at Volunteer Landing. Vendors, children’s activities, a water show and free concerts from guest artists, including Fairview Union, Sweetwater Rain and Native Run, are among the highlights.

5:30 p.m. – Ben Merrell Water Show

9 p.m. – The biggest Labor Day weekend fireworks show in the nation begins. Pryo Shows Fireworks provides the display. Prime seating is available at a ticketed event at Calhoun’s on the River.

10 p.m. – Rodney Atkins Boomsday After Party at Thompson-Boling Arena. The East Tennessee native, best known for such country hits as “Take A Back Road” and “Farmer’s Daughter,” will perform. Tickets are $20 and are available at tbarena.com.

When the Tennessee Department of Transportation put the kibosh on plans to block off Neyland Drive for the VIP area, barring even pedestrians from walking along the state highway, WBIR reported, organizers simply fell back on the plan that has worked so well in years past.

The 5,500 ticket-holders can either get a refund or use their tickets for the Atkins concert, which is now a paid event in Thompson-Boling Arena.

“We’re not going to do that now,” Bumpas adds. All of Neyland Drive will be open and everyone can enjoy the food and the shopping and the fireworks. We’re having a huge Boomsday after-party [with] the ticketed concert for Rodney Atkins.

“Frankly, it’s a great idea to go to the concert and skip all that traffic for two hours, and then drive home once the traffic’s thinned out.”

Prep for worst, hope for best
Nobody wants to put a damper on Boomsday, but the city of Knoxville has to be prepared for anything and everything that might happen.

All told, workers from the city, the university and Visit Knoxville will have about 30 hours to set up for Boomsday, pack it out, clean it up and be ready for the football fans.

From the university’s standpoint, Boomsday doesn’t require much of a change to the game-day plan. “It’s not really that difficult,” Maples notes. “It takes a lot of communication and coordination, but we have a great relationship with city officials.”

Most Boomsday events are taking place off-campus, with some activity on the southeast end of campus. There aren’t any Boomsday events at the stadium, and Thompson-Boling arena “doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the football game the next day,” Maples adds.

No boat? There are plenty of great fireworks viewing locations on both sides of the Tennessee River.

(The Ledger/Chase Malone)

“It’s not unusual for us to turn things around real quickly,” he says. “For years, (Boomsday) used to be on Labor Day night. It’s not a whole lot different from putting on the event and having it cleaned up for a class day or a regular work day.”

UT is beefing up its security plan slightly, but that elaborate plan, vetted by local, state and federal officials, “was already in place anyway,” Maples says. “There will be more checkpoints and more areas closed off as you get closer to the game. (The plan) was tweaked slightly, mainly because it’s a day later.”

The city is coordinating at least 100 workers to help ensure everything runs smoothly over the weekend, explains Judith Foltz, Knoxville’s director of Special Events.

“The city’s role in the event is logistics – helping with road closures and city services that are used,” she says.

“Our Public Service Department is heavily involved with the cleanup and setup, and then we have command centers set up and we have the Fire Department and the Police Department and EMS.”

Foltz coordinated the emergency services and security plan with the Department of Homeland Security and says the main command center on its own will be staffed by about 35 people.

There will be at least 50 police officers, 50 firefighters and about 15 EMS personnel stationed at tents posted along Neyland Drive. In addition, Knox County will supply 10-15 people from its Volunteer Rescue Squad to patrol the south side of the Tennessee River, and water revelers can expect to find a number of officials on the river itself.

“We usually have officers in the water as well, the Coast Guard as well as Tennessee Wildlife (Resources Agency), because that’s all part of their waterway system,” Foltz says.

Foltz coordinates a big meal for everyone before the event because she knows they’re in for a long night.

“We bring in our equipment as soon as everybody empties off Neyland, and that’s a pretty smooth exit. The police have gotten a great plan for getting people out of the city. They’re used to handling large crowds because of the football games.”

By the time everything is cleared, cleanup is completed and the streets are swept along the roughly 10-block area, it could be 5 or 6 in the morning, Foltz says – just in time for tailgaters to start arriving for the big game.

“It’s pretty amazing to watch them clean it all up,” she adds.

Bumpas agrees. “We’ve got it down to a science.”

A reason to celebrate
Boomsday started 26 years ago as a promotional idea from a local radio station. It has become a huge event over the years, and a point of much local pride.

In the business community, everyone from restaurants and hotels to boutiques and local musicians benefit, not to mention the tax revenue the event generates for the area.

“It’s hard to calculate the financial impact when it’s coupled with the football game, but it’s a wonderful weekend for all kinds of activities,” Bumpas says. “It’s a great tax revenue weekend for our community, and every single aspect of what happens that weekend plays into that.”