Every step forward matters to Highland Park, and city officials are discussing taking a big one next summer.
Fourth of July 2024 was on the agenda for a City Council Committee of the Whole session on Oct. 10, when staff and council members shared their thoughts on the most appropriate way to mark two years since the mass shooting on Central Avenue.
During the meeting, Assistant City Manager Erin Jason presented a summary of Highland Park’s 2023 Fourth of July and staff’s recommendations for the 2024 events, including a return to a more traditional schedule.
Jason explained that 2023’s amended lineup — which included a remembrance, community walk, community picnic and drone show — cost the City about $280,000, a major jump from standard years as the City marked one year since the tragedy. Bolstered security and additional activities added up, even with donated entertainment and no-cost assistance from 18 local law-enforcement agencies.
“The bottom line is this was a unique year and it was a unique and high cost, but we need to figure out how to move forward,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said. “I’ve been mulling it over a lot and I’m sure there is going to be an interesting conversation here as we mull over the elements we want to have.”
To prepare for the 2024 holiday, staff was looking to council members for key points of guidance, such as what, as in a parade or walk, drone show or fireworks, etc., and when, as in what time and which day.
Council members supported the return of a parade, which transformed into a community walk this summer. Rotering said she’d like to see a parade that included more of the community than in years past, while Councilmember Jeff Hoobler said he’s on board as long as the changes do not distract from the parade atmosphere.
The time and place of a parade was less of a consensus, but council members and staffers seemed to prefer an afternoon or early evening parade that led into nightime festivities. If a parade is held and it leads into evening events, officials said it made sense that the parade route also leads to the evening-event site — a plan that would like move the parade away from Central Avenue.
Council members also agreed that a remembrance ceremony was important and supported the staff’s recommendation to hold it indoors around 10 a.m. — the first gunshots on July 4, 2022, in Highland Park were fired at 10:14 a.m. Seven individuals were killed and more than 50 shot and injured in the ensuing seconds.
The council also backed another drone show in place of fireworks, and some kind of family and community entertainment beforehand.
Initially, Jason introduced the idea of holding some or all of the festivities on another date, such as July 3, as some North Shore communities already do. The Park District of Highland Park, which she said does not require its employees to work on July 4, had a “strong desire” to hold the events on separate date, Jason said.
One suggestion was to hold the celebratory events on July 3 and the memorial on July 4; however, City Manager Ghida Neukirch said staff was worried about the City holding only a somber gathering on July 4.
“Our feeling was it would be difficult for the community that historically has had everything on the Fourth to all the sudden have nothing but a remembrance,” she said. “People are going to think it’s because of (the shooting).”
Council members guided City staff to begin planning efforts for Fourth of July events that include a remembrance ceremony, parade, community celebration and drone show, and the council will discuss and confirm details at future meetings.
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.