Frolics’ Neighbors Blast Lions; Vote Abolishes Fireworks Finale 

June 1, 2016

By Katherine Keller

A  contentious group of residents gathered at the South Shore Park Pavilion May 24.

About 100 responded to Ald. Tony Zielinski’s announcement of the public meeting to gauge the community’s response to the Bay View Lions’ request to add a fourth day to its annual South Shore Frolics festival.

The Lions’ city-permit application stated the festival would run from Thursday, July 14 to Sunday, July 17 this year and attract 60,000 attendees.

The meeting began when Lions Club president Lyn Graziano took the podium. As she began to describe plans for the fourth day’s activities, it became eminently clear, by her use of the past tense, that the festival organizers had forsaken their plan to add Thursday to the lineup this year.

A family health and wellness theme had been planned for the extra day, Graziano said. Home improvement and pet care would have been included. Veterans were to be bused in to listen to the U.S. Army Band.

She said the Lions had expected a turnout of 800 on Thursday and beer would have been sold that day.

Zielinski asked for a show of hands of those in favor of the fourth day, and of those opposed. A large majority was opposed.

“Your concern that you gave us didn’t go unnoticed,” Graziano said, and delineated “Plan B.” The Lions’ alternate plan would be to weave the family health and wellness events into the Sunday schedule, to begin after Father Tom Witliff’s Sunday Mass. The audience was mollified, except for those who were in favor of the fourth day.

A charged discussion concerning the percussive groundworks component of the fireworks dominated the remainder of the meeting. Known as “Let’s Blow Up the Beach,” but by Zielinski as the “atomic blast” and by others as the “atomic fireworks,” the booming event is a series of simultaneous, powerful detonations that serves as the fireworks finale.

Residents who live near South Shore Park have complained for years that the powerful reverberations cause their houses to shudder on the foundations, windows to rattle, and objects to fall off shelves and walls. Others reported their pets are terrified by the commotion.

Zielinski called for a vote for those in favor and those opposed to the explosive finale.

Sixty voted to expunge, 21 voted to retain them.

“I’m going to work on the grand finale and they (the Lions) won’t be allowed to do that within a noise ordinance,” Zielinski said after the vote. “There will be no atomic blast on any night.”

Visibly upset, Graziano, who, until the vote, had stolidly countenanced critical comments and taunts said, “We can’t have a Frolics without the signature event.”

The audience jumped at that and applauded. Throughout the meeting, some called out for an outright cancelation of the Frolics, a sentiment that has been routinely expressed in the past three years at public meetings about the festival.

Others at the meeting said keep the festival as it is.

Another contingent asked the Lions to alter the festival to reflect the community as it once did, harkening back to the days when the event was called the South Shore Water Frolic.

They said the Frolics no draws Bay View residents, that it does not reflect its culture, that its businesses are not represented, and that the entertainment does not include members of the local contemporary music scene.

Some called for a “Taste of Bay View” component, where local restaurateurs would set up tents and sell food to festivalgoers. Others said they wanted the Frolics Parade to be reinstituted.

The Lions canceled the parade in 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Bay View resident Patty Pritchard Thompson, after learning of the cancelation, stepped in to help the Lions find parade funding in 2013 and again in 2014, enabling the Lions to stage the parade both years.

Kathy Krause, who raised $1,700 via three fundraising events she staged in an effort to save the 2016 Frolics Parade, bitterly denounced Bay View business owners who refused to donate significant funds when she approached them last year for parade funding. “I say Bay View does not deserve a parade,” she declared.

Residents who live near the park reported that they contend with trespassers, litter, including dirty diapers strewn on their lawn or in the gutters in front of their homes, and the inebriated, some who urinate on their property during the Frolics.

The last challenge thrown at the Lions concerned the festival’s stated function, a fundraising event for its charities. IRS 999 reports indicate that the Lions have made marginal profits in recent years and given minimal donations to its charities.

Graziano responded, “It doesn’t matter if we make $100 or $100,000.” The implication was that it is a charitable event and any amount of money that could be given to charity is good. She said that they had not raised as much money in recent years as they had in prior years.

Patty Pritchard Thompson said, “You’re not making much money.” Referencing the IRS reports, she added, “If you really, if we really want to talk about how to make the festival a money raiser, we have to think about a better way to serve the community.”

Bay View resident Barbara Chudnow concurred. She asked why the Frolics could not raise more funds and compared the Lions’ net gains to those generated by Bay View Bash, South Shore Farmers Market, and Bay View Neighborhood Association’s events.

Addressing the Lions members, Zielinski said, “We know you put your heart and soul in this, but in reality there are [complaints about] serious issues that I’ve been receiving and Marina (Dimitrijevic) has been receiving.”

The Frolics festival began in the 1930s, sponsored by the South Shore Yacht Club and called High Jinks. After World War II the event was taken over by the Interorganizational Council and renamed the South Shore Water Frolic. The Lions have been in charge of staging the festival since 1994, when it was renamed the South Shore Frolics.

Response of the Bay View Lions concerning the May 24 Frolics meeting

The Bay View Lions Club is truly disappointed with the results of the neighborhood meeting that took place on May 24 at the South Shore Park Pavilion. We characterize the meeting and subsequent vote to ban any grand finale fireworks on Friday or Saturday night as grossly unfair.

If Alderman Zielinski truly represents all in his district equally, why were not all of his constituents included and notified that there was going to be a meeting about the Frolics and that there possibly would be a vote or votes with “majority rules?” There was never a mention in his April 21 letter to his constituents announcing the meeting!!

To include only those in the area around the park is arbitrary, selective, unfair, and it truly stacked the entire vote to allow or ban the traditional fireworks grand finale.

Plus, none of the Lions Club members were aware that any such discussion or vote was going to take place on or about any other thing than about a potential additional (fourth) day for the Frolics.

In fairness, shouldn’t all constituents’ voices have had a chance to be heard on this matter, not just a preselected number living the near park — the majority of whom are opposed to the loud Frolic fireworks finale, if not most of the Frolics itself?

Had his other constituents, many who undoubtedly are “pro-Frolics, pro grand finale,” had the opportunity to voice their opinion and cast their vote, the result would have been far, far different. But, we will never truly know what the vote would have been because this group of potential Frolics supporters was never invited and had no voice.

I have a copy of a letter dated April 21. Did the entire district receive it?

So while “majority rules” sounds good in principle at a meeting, if that meeting is not inclusive by seeking feedback from all, it cannot be representative of the alderman’s entire district; and therefore, it should not stand.

If majority rules, let’s hear from the majority and then decide and not let 60 people decide the fate of hundreds, if not thousands, of those who attend the Frolics to see the fireworks with the traditional outstanding grand finale.

Further, had the Bay View Lions Club known that the discussion was going to center on the presumed loud fireworks and grand finale, we would have invited our own experts, Jim and/or Jeff Bartolotta, owners of the Bartolotta Fireworks Company, who stage the fireworks at the Frolics. They have not only provided the Lions Club with outstanding fireworks shows for the past 21 years, but also to the Interorganizational Council for the 19 years prior to 1994 when the Frolics festival was transferred to the Lions.

Bartolotta’s reputation for quality shows and safety is impeccable and unmatched in the Midwest as they provide hundreds of shows every year. They no doubt would have explained that our fireworks shows and especially the grand finales have been the same every year for the last 21 years.

Plus, as was mentioned at the meeting, the 82-year-old South Shore Park Pavilion is and has always been at ground zero, literally a few hundred feet away from the fireworks. Has this building ever suffered any structural damage or even so much as a foundation crack or broken window? The answer is of course no, none ever, zilch, nada. And, there also would have been hundreds and hundreds of District 14 pro-Frolics, pro-grand-finale supporters in attendance, too. We will never know for certain because we, and they, never had the chance to have their say!!!

In conclusion, you can’t invite some constituents and ignore others and call it a fair “majority rule” vote if the majority is not even invited to attend and anticipate a vote. If the alderman is having a vote on some aspects of the Frolics then that should be upfront and communicated to all so that we, the Lions, are not blindsided by the agenda.

The Frolics is Milwaukee’s longest running free event and is and always has been about fun and fireworks—for 67 years!

The Frolics festival is synonymous with great fireworks shows, especially our signature grand finales. The fireworks have remained a staple for 21 years with the Lions, thanks to the work of the best fireworks vendor each and every year.

For it to be fair, all voices must have the opportunity to be heard, then majority rules is a proper procedure. Short of that a vote is unfair.

The vote at the May 24 meeting was unfair and the way that voting event was came to be was equally unfair. It is our hope that Alderman Zielinski will represent his entire district equally and hear the voices of all of his constituents not just those who live adjacent to the park.

We hope that he rightfully reinstates the grand finales to the South Shore Frolics fireworks for the majority to enjoy!

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One Comment on "Frolics’ Neighbors Blast Lions; Vote Abolishes Fireworks Finale "

  1. jackie campbell on Thu, 2nd Jun 2016 10:41 am 

    I grew up in Bay View I lived there most of my life I am 55 yrs old and have gone to the frolics every yr I brought my children up going to this event each and every yr as well I think what has just happened is totally unfair and there should be a new meeting and all should be informed of when and where and a new vote should be in order! This is totally out of line and will surely have a great affect on the out come of the frolics this yr and future yrs to come! The frolics have always been not just a place to go but a way of life for many of us that grew up in Bay View and still continue to go to this event each and every yr!!

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