I watched the Folds of Honor FreedomFest fireworks from the top of a parking garage near Utica Square.
They were magnificent. But I kept wondering what it would be like to watch them up close, rather than several miles away from the 21st Street Bridge where they are set off.
Then I thought of the image that circulated on Twitter and Facebook on Monday.
— Gather Tulsa (@GatherTulsa) July 4, 2016
It shows people on the great lawn of A Gathering Place for Tulsa park on Riverside Drive — a project that is at least a year and a half from completion.
And that got me wondering whether there wasn’t some truth to that rendering: In the not-too-distant future the best seat in Tulsa to watch the fireworks will likely be A Gathering Place.
Yes, that 66.5-acre marvel George Kaiser and other generous donors are building along Riverside Drive. Not next summer, but the one after that, the park will be open.
So could we watch the fireworks from the park?
“Oh, yeah,” said Jeff Stava. “It will be insanity.”
Stava, who oversees construction of A Gathering Place, usually chooses his words more carefully. But the father of two is obviously excited about the opportunities the park will afford Fourth of July revelers.
“On those big weekends, I think the park will just be packed,” Stava said. “The kids will still be in the playgrounds, the families will be picnicking, all of the food venues will be open.”
The high points at the park, including the boat house and sky garden, will be great places to watch the fireworks show, as will be the great lawn as pictured on social media, Stava said.
The park is not intended to be a place that competes with or replaces great civic events like Mayfest or the fireworks show, Stava said, but it could on occasion provide complementary activities.
On The Fourth, for example, he envisions a parade of children streaming through the park on their decorated bikes as live bands provide a musical backdrop.
“Things you might not experience elsewhere,” Stava said.
Having A Gathering Place to hang out at on the nation’s birthday would seem to only add to the luster of the Folds of Honor FreedomFest fireworks.
Certainly Tonja Carrigg thinks so. She’s community relations director for River Parks Authority, which has put on the fireworks show every year since 1976. This year’s presenting sponsor was QuikTrip Corp.
“From our perspective, with the event having an additional location with the Gathering Place, that is just a larger community,” Carrigg said. “We would plan to (continue) to have Veterans Park and River West Festival Park open just as we do now.”
Carrigg estimated that 80,000 people lined the banks of the Arkansas River and packed into the parks on either side of the river Monday to watch the fireworks show.
She expects that number to increase next year when more people are aware that River West Festival Park has reopened after an extended closing for renovations.
And then comes 2018 and the opening of A Gathering Place.
“I love to take an event and make it better and better,” Carrigg said.
Now that would be something to celebrate. The American Pyrotechnics Association recently ranked Tulsa’s fireworks shows as one of the 13 “must-see” fireworks shows in the nation.