Thousands of people watch the 4th of July fireworks display on Portland's East End Wednesday night. The show almost didn't go on this year due to funding problems. Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — The state’s largest Fourth of July fireworks show drew about 60,000 people to the city’s East End on Wednesday night. But this year’s annual display of colorful explosions marking the country’s birthday almost didn’t happen because of funding issues — and it’s unclear just who paid for it this time around.

The nonprofit group of businesses that’s footed the bill for nearly a decade, July 4th Portland, announced in the spring that it couldn’t come up with the cash this year. In May, the city agreed to help by budgeting $35,000 toward the celebration.

To save money, the Portland Symphony Orchestra was axed from the show, saving a reported $30,000. In total, the celebration cost $130,000 last year.

Assuming the show costs have remained the same, with the city’s contribution, that still left July 4th Portland with $65,000 to raise for this year’s display.

In an email, July 4th spokesperson Olivia Vega declined to reveal which businesses contributed money to the 2018 show or how much the final cost was. Vega also declined to say how many businesses were involved with fundraising.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Most people who spoke to the BDN on Wednesday were unaware of the financial details behind the annual patriotic extravaganza.

“I saw some thing about it, but I didn’t read it,” Michael Legere of Portland, who was lighting off a sparkler at the end of Cutter Street, said.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Several people who spoke were disappointed the orchestra was not playing.

“We’re bummed,” Kelley Slippey, who was celebrating her third wedding anniversary, said. “But we’re going to have fun anyway.”

John Wallis of Westbrook said he might not come again next year if the orchestra doesn’t play.

“We got here early to hear the PSO, and it was a surprise,” Wallis said.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

For many years, until 2010, Portland paid the complete cost for the show. When it announced it would stop, a group of businesses — Wex, the Portland Press Herald, Quirk Chevrolet and the Maine Red Claws — formed July 4th Portland to raise the needed money. It’s unclear which businesses are still involved in fundraising.

Portland Press Herald CEO and Publisher Lisa DiSisto has stated their only contribution would be free advertising space.

In May, the Portland Press Herald reported the city has been quietly fronting some of the costs for the event. Reportedly, Portland spent just more than $106,000 in the past eight years in un-reimbursed expenses — including $42,000 last year alone.

“I don’t care who pays for it,” Amanda Castonguay of Portland said. “The fireworks are amazing every year. It would be unfortunate if they didn’t go on.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett | BDN

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.