The Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department plans to move its July 4 fireworks display for 2018 to Epps Bridge Centre off Epps Bridge Parkway to accommodate construction of three new multi-purpose fields at Oconee Veterans Park.
No firm agreement has been made with the owner of the expanding Epps Bridge Centre on details of the move, according to County Administrator Justin Kirouac.
Lisa Davol, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, said Frank Bishop, owner of the shopping center, has indicated the county can launch fireworks from Epps Bridge Centre Phase II, now, under construction, but other plans for the even have not been settled.
In recent years, the firework have been launched from the cleared area in Oconee Veterans Park where the multi-purpose fields are being built. That area is adjacent to existing sports fields.
According to Davol, moving the fireworks also is a response to the problem of traffic at Oconee Veterans Park, which has only one main entrance and exit on Hog Mountain Road and a secondary, limited entrance and exit onto Hodges Mill Road via Autry Road.
The county announced the decision to move the fireworks at a press conference on Dec. 7 organized for The Oconee Enterprise and for the Athens Banner-Herald.
Enterprise Editor Michael Prochaska attended the press conference at Oconee Veterans Park on Dec. 7 and wrote a front-page story about the decision to move the fireworks display in the Dec. 14 edition of the paper.
The paper also ran an editorial in that edition of the paper supporting the move, saying citizens should “Approach the venue change for the Fourth of July Spectacular with an open mind.”
The Banner-Herald did not send a reporter to the press conference, which was attended by Davol, Sheriff Scott Berry, and County Administrator Kirouac.
Kirouac issued a news release about the decision to move the fireworks display on the morning of Dec. 14, the day the Enterprise published its story and editorial on the decision.
“The Oconee County Fourth of July Spectacular will move to Epps Bridge Center in 2018,” the news release said.
“Previously held at Oconee Veterans Park, the fireworks event’s success has unfortunately created several logistical issues for the Park and Recreation Department and Sheriff’s Office related to parking, traffic flow and pedestrian safety,” the release continued.
“With OVP undergoing construction for additional fields that will likely further reduce space over the summer,” the County felt a move to Epps Bridge Center would be prudent to address these issues,” according to the release.
“Following the 2018 event, Oconee County will poll the public about the event and then make a decision on future event locations,” the news release stated.
In an email exchange with me following the release of the statement, Kirouac said that “Nothing has been worked out and no logistics planned at this point other than the property owner told Lisa it would be okay to hold the event on the property.”
|Epps Bridge Centre Phase II, Front, Left|
Existing Epps Bridge Centre In Background
Photo By Chris Greer 8/27/2017 (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
Davol told me in an email message on Dec. 19 that the Epps Bridge Centre developer has agreed to allow the fireworks to be launched from property near the building now being constructed in Epps Bridge Centre II for Hobby Lobby.
Bishop also “agreed to use Epps Bridge Centre as the advertised viewing site for the fireworks,” Davol said.
“At this point, the only plans are the fireworks launch site,” Davol wrote. “Still have a lot of planning to do for the event.”
The fireworks still will be a Parks and Recreation Department event, Davol wrote.
The new location “will provide even better parking, accessibility, and other amenities,” she wrote.
Davol estimated that 10,000 people within a one mile radius of Oconee Veterans Park have viewed the fireworks in recent years.
Public Not Invited
On Nov. 30, Kirouac sent out an invitation to the Dec. 7 press conference to Michael Prochaska, editor of the Enterprise and Lee Shearer, reporter for the Banner-Herald.
Shearer forwarded the invitation to me, and I asked Kirouac in an email that same day if the event was open to the public.
“It’s not a public meeting,” Kirouac responded.
I told Kirouac I would try to arrange to have the conference video recorded, but he declined.
I asked Kirouac for a news release on the move on Dec. 12, and he sent it two days later.
Prochaska from the Enterprise asked me on Dec. 11 if I had a copy of an aerial photograph of Epps Bridge Centre. Chris Greer has shot several videos and made still images for me of Epps Bridge Centre and its expansion.
With Greer’s permission, I provided that photo to Prochaska, who used a cropped version on the front page of the Enterprise on Dec. 14.
I also cropped that same photograph to show the launch site near Hobby Lobby and used it above.
Hobby Lobby is under construction in the area of the “white” pad at the center, right of the photograph, which was shot on Aug. 27 of this year.
The prominent roadway at center, left, is the now-opened Parkway Boulevard.
The existing Epps Bridge Center is in the distance, across the four-lane Oconee Connector, which runs roughly left to right in the photograph.