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Baltimore lacks cash for New Year’s fireworks

Kicking off 2012 in Baltimore this year may lack some spark.

Officials at the city’s Office of Promotion & the Arts say there is not enough money to produce the Baltimore’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular entertainment and fireworks display at the Inner Harbor, which attracts 100,000 viewers and revelers.

“We have known since the spring that we needed sponsors,” said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the nonprofit. “But we have had little luck getting people to commit.”

The group has raised $27,500 toward the new year’s firework’s effort — well short of the minimum $75,000 to $100,000 needed to “blow the door off” with colorful pyrotechnics needed to help ring in the new year, Gilmore said.

Until Wednesday, the group had raised just $17,500 for the fireworks show.

A $10,000 pledge was made Wednesday by the owners of the luxury 190-unit Ritz Carlton Residences on the waterfront in Federal Hill. The other major donor is General Growth Properties Inc., owner of Harborplace and The Gallery, which has pledged $15,000 for the show, Gilmore said.

The city does not pay for the fireworks displays, Gilmore said, but provides police, fire and transportation for the events.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not respond to a request for comment.

For the past three years, Ports America Chesapeake has underwritten the fireworks displays at the Inner Harbor on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. This spring, the company announced it would only subsidize the summer show, leaving a need for new sponsors for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza, Gilmore said.

But finding new backers has been difficult, with potential sponsors blaming the recession and economic hardships.

“Businesses have told us it is not a good time for them to donate,” Gilmore said. “You have to have a special company to commit that amount of money for a 20-minute show.”

The fireworks are shot off from two barges anchored in the harbor. The Office of Promotion & the Arts also hires tug boats to help stabilize the barges.

Gilmore, on vacation in Hawaii, said Wednesday he was confident more donations would be forthcoming for the New Year’s fireworks. The group had set a Nov. 11 deadline for the contributions.

Baltimore’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular has potential for a $6.9 million economic impact for the city, a 2009 study by Forward Analytics found.

Joseph Graziose, senior vice president with RXR Realty, developer of the Ritz residences, pledged the funds Wednesday morning and issued a challenge to other businesses and property owners along the city’s waterfront to do the same.

“When I heard the city was having problems finding the money to do the New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular, I wanted to help,” Graziose said. “Hopefully, other businesses along the harbor will join together to keep this Baltimore tradition alive for the thousands of Baltimoreans and the residents of the Ritz-Carlton Residences who enjoy this New Year’s tradition each year.”