THE TALL Ships celebration planned for this Fourth of July in Boston Harbor promises to become an indelible memory for millions of New Englanders, a civic celebration with real historical resonance. It’s the bicentennial of the War of 1812, when the US Navy came of age through the triumphs of Boston’s own USS Constitution. The six-day Tall Ships visit, punctuated by the annual turnaround of the Constitution itself, could be for children today what the 1976 Tall Ships extravaganza was for today’s middle-aged Bostonians. The city, state, and area business community must do all they can to make sure that the event lives up to its potential.
That’s not happening right now, however. Mayor Menino’s request that organizers come up with $1.4 million to defray security costs has led planners, including the Navy, to forgo the grand Parade of Sail - the festive procession that was the centerpiece of past Tall Ships visits - in order to save money. That’s a mistake that needs to be rectified, even at the cost of the city footing the security bill.
To be sure, Menino has a legitimate grievance. Even without the Parade of Sail, the Tall Ships could easily attract a million visitors and generate $100 million in economic activity. That’s a boon for the city’s stores, restaurants, and hotels, but the extra tax revenue goes mostly to the state. The city, meanwhile, is left to cover police overtime and cleanup costs.
There is good reason for businesses to step in and foot the bill - from local businesses who benefit from the crowds, to national companies who wish to have their names associated with an historic celebration, to those military contractors whose work is reflected in the celebration itself. Boston’s Tall Ships event will honor the role of the Navy, led by the USS Constitution but also including newer vessels and flyovers by naval aircraft, and will thus serve to promote the policies that benefit the region’s many naval contractors. Five of the top 10 naval contractors have outlets in New England cities and towns where residents are likely to be attracted to Boston’s Tall Ships celebration. They are Raytheon, General Dynamics, BAE Systems, Textron, and General Electric. A little corporate generosity, in the face of billions of dollars in public contracts, would go a long way.
But even if corporate contributors don’t fill the gap, Menino should signal to the Navy and Operation Sail, the two leading event organizers, that Boston is committed to coming up with the money to cover the public-safety costs of the Parade of Sail. The parade would showcase the beauty of Boston Harbor, and attract more vessels, thereby adding to the celebration. It shouldn’t be sacrificed.
Behind his public face, Menino clearly understands the value of a historic commemoration like this one: the family memories; the bonding of people throughout New England with the “hub’’ of Boston; the national TV exposure on the Fourth of July, which could inspire thousands more tourists to come to Boston; the validation of Boston’s central role in American history; the possibility of a presidential visit, drawing even more attention; the forging of an often-neglected link between New England and the nation’s military; the showcasing of the revitalized Seaport District; the spillover benefits for other Boston attractions.
The Tall Ships celebration is too important to downplay in order to prove a point about Massachusetts’ inefficient distribution of tax revenues. Menino has stood his ground over the unfairness of the costs. Now others - including the state and business community - should do what they can to help out. But shortchanging the event itself would be a sad statement on this region’s ability to showcase itself and provide an enjoyable event for its families.