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Cedar Rapids fireworks in New Location, $3 Button Required for Freedom Fest Admission

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Locals hoping for a glimpse of fireworks in downtown Cedar Rapids tonight will enjoy a show "double the size" of last year's, but they'll have to navigate a few changes.

Perhaps the most noticeable change to the Freedom Festival celebration is that officials will be shooting off fireworks from the west end of the 1st Ave. bridge. In the past, the fireworks originated from Mays Island.

The new location means the 1st Ave. bridge will be closed off from seating. However, Freedom Festival Executive Director Robyn Rieckhoff said the change is a positive one.

In the past, to maintain 200 feet of distance between fireworks and spectators from the Mays Island spot, they had to close half of the 2nd and 3rd Ave. bridges. Also, you couldn't walk back and forth across the bridges past a certain time.

By shooting off of 1st Ave. this year, Rieckhoff said they will have both bridges completely accessible from either end to spectators and attendees of the festival. The 2nd Ave. bridge will be reserved for fireworks seating, and the 3rd Ave. bridge will feature a Kids Zone with a Ferris wheel, bungee trampoline, and other attractions.

Big screens on the 2nd and 3rd Ave. bridges will provide an alternate view of the fireworks as well, Rieckhoff said.

"It's our 30th year, so we're going to have a really big fireworks show this year, probably double what we normally do," she said.

Another change from past years is that attendees must have a Freedom Festival button in order to access the bridges and attractions. The buttons can be purchased at the festival and cost $3. Admission is free for children five and under.

Rieckhoff said the switch to charging admission with buttons is due to the increasing cost of hosting the festival.

"Our costs have gone up so much in the last few years, so we had to do something to be able to continue doing this," she said, adding the cost of everything - from public safety to fireworks - has increased.

If spectators do not have a button or don't wish to purchase one, Rieckhoff emphasized that everything outside the designated festival area is still open to the public for fireworks viewing. The only area off limits is near the new riverfront amphitheater because the grass is so new, Rieckhoff said.

Despite the fact that several Freedom Festival events have required the $3 button for admission, Rieckhoff said they've seen robust turnouts.

For example, their July 4 pancake breakfast this morning brought in 2,000 people, up from 750 people last year. When they hosted their first ever movie night at the ballpark on Tuesday, Rieckhoff said they only expected 500 to 1,00 people, but 2,000 turned out.

"I think part of the reason numbers are up so much is we have had great corporate sponsors this year and worked together to promote the festival," she said.

In addition to tonight's fireworks, the celebration will include live performances from two local bands and a beer garden.

Rieckhoff said she hopes they can continue using the 1st. Ave bridge for fireworks in the future.

"I'm really excited to see the crowd tonight," she said. "...It's always kind of a hunt to figure out where to shoot off the fireworks because there's always so much going on in Cedar Rapids and so much growth. Which is a great thing, but it makes it a little tougher for us."

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