Doug Miller is never at his best on July 5.
Miller is the guy who, for the past 26 years, has organized Freedom Fair, Tacoma’s annual Fourth of July celebration on Ruston Way. Every year the effort pretty much wipes him out.
On Thursday morning, Miller and his son. Brent, had been up for nearly 50 hours straight, a marathon effort topped by picking up garbage left on the waterfront by a crowd estimated at 120,000.
After Wednesday night’s fireworks, fairgoers tipped over a port-a-potty and eight 300-gallon trash barrels, making even more of mess than usual for the Millers and a handful of volunteers.
Even so, Doug Miller managed to maintain a more or less upbeat attitude.
“It was a spectacular day with near-record crowds,” said Miller, executive director of the Tacoma Events Commission, the nonprofit organization that stages Freedom Fair and other events. “I think we’re on track to meet our obligations.”
Miller said more people than ever put money in the admissions boxes this year, which will help the organization climb out of its financial hole.
Still, he said, only about one-third of people who came to the fair dropped any money in the admissions boxes. He wouldn’t say how much money was collected, for fear of attracting the interest of criminals who might want to rip off the donation booths.
“There’s a pattern here,” Miller said. “People leave big messes and don’t leave enough money to keep it going.”
Miller says it costs about $1 million to put on Freedom Fair, but that number is a little misleading. Not nearly that much money changes hands. Most of the labor is volunteered and most of the contributions are in-kind services. For example, the City of Tacoma does not charge for police services.
The effort is heavily reliant on private business contributions, and this year one of the event’s prime sponsors dropped out, leaving a deeper than usual hole. About three weeks before the event, organizers said they were $330,000 in the red.
“It’s always difficult,” Miller said. “This year we were up against extreme circumstances. Last year, one of our sponsorship commitments was not fulfilled, and we had to carry over into 2012.
“I haven’t had time to count up everything,” Miller said, “but I’m inspired by the support we’ve received. I feel we’re within reach of getting over the top as well as getting some start-up funds for next year.