Fireworks show planned at Morro Bay Harbor Festival this year

Brandy Relis, right, rocks out to the local music of The Shival Experience from Los Osos at the Morro Bay Harbor Festival in 2008.
Brandy Relis, right, rocks out to the local music of The Shival Experience from Los Osos at the Morro Bay Harbor Festival in 2008. The Tribune

Morro Bay’s Fourth of July celebration won’t feature fireworks this year — but the 34th annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival will.

The Harbor Festival will be held Oct. 3 from noon to 9 p.m.

The community’s signature fall festival is run by a separate organization than the Morro Bay Fourth committee that organizes July 4 events in town. And the overall approach to hosting this year’s Harbor Festival activities has changed from recent years.

This year’s event will be free, compared with a $12 entry for adults in 2014. It will be held on one day instead of two and include only local vendors instead of out-of-towners; a fireworks show will be presented for the first time.

Jonni Biaggini, the vice president of the festival’s nonprofit organizing group, said that this year’s event will be “totally different than what it has been in the past.”

“It’s basically a new event, and we’re very excited about the new direction,” Biaggini said.

Biaggini said the fireworks will be shot from a barge in the bay, similar to the July 4 show, and last an estimated 10 to 15 minutes.

The group will spend about $10,000 on the pyrotechnic show, compared with the $20,000 that Morro Bay Fourth raised for fireworks for last year’s Independence Day celebration.

The members of the nonprofit that organized the Fourth of July show collectively stepped down, citing the burden of the volunteer work over the years.

They had hoped a new group would step in to infuse new energy. They remain optimistic that the nonprofit, which has remained for the time being, will be taken over by new leaders for next year’s July 4 events.

But a committee couldn’t be assembled in time to coordinate fireworks this summer, and the city took over the planning of that event.

An advantage of holding the Harbor Festival’s fireworks show in October instead of July is that it won’t disturb the nesting season of birds around the bay, which has been a concern for some community members.

In past years, the Harbor Festival’s budget was around $200,000 to $250,000. This year’s scaled-down event will likely cost $75,000 to $100,000.

In previous years, ticket sales, as well as sponsorships and proceeds from beer and wine sales, helped pay for the fall festival, which has attracted up to 15,000 people each year.

This year, the nonprofit Morro Bay Harbor Festival organization will rely mostly on sponsorships, as well as beer and wine sales, to pay for the free event.

The Morro Bay Tourism Bureau, which collects an assessment of 3 percent on hotel stays toward marketing funding, has committed to the largest contribution thus far — $25,000.

The city of Morro Bay has endorsed the new concept, allocating $5,000 for the festival, Biaggini said.

The redesigned Morro Bay Harbor Festival will feature a pedestrian event zone on the Embarcadero between Harbor and Marina streets, just south of the original site.

Instead of about 125 vendors, many from out of the area, as in past years, about 40 to 50 vendors based in Morro Bay are expected at this year’s event.

Biaggini said more people have come to the two-day Harbor Festival on Saturday than on Sunday. Coordinators think this year’s one-day event will attract 8,000 to 10,000 people.

“We expect to draw just as many on a Saturday and, maybe more, because it’s free,” Biaggini said. “We’ve never had fireworks before.”