By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
With an improved layout and small but noticeable improvements to downtown Sharon, Saturday’s WaterFire might have been the most successful one of all.
Allan Redfern, an originator of WaterFire in Providence, R.I., 17 years ago, has attended all three events in Sharon this year.
Redfern said he’s noticed improvements to downtown Sharon that are not associated with WaterFire.
“The community is coming together. People want to be a part of things.”
While floating down the Shenango River, with the Pierce Opera House singers belting out a tune from “Phantom of the Opera,” Redfern pointed out The Winner store sign and the new awnings at the Gilbert Insurance building.
He said plans are in the works to build accessible shores along the river on the southside of the State Street bridge.
After the overwhelming response to the first WaterFire Sharon, Redfern said people noticed the success of the event.
“That’s when everyone woke up,” Redfern said. “WaterFire Sharon was recognized as great.”
The final installment of the first year for WaterFire, “Up and Around,” appeared less crowded during the afternoon than the previous two. Organizers worked on the layout of vendors and activities so the crowd would be more spread out, Gary Meszaros, a WaterFire Sharon official, said.
The children’s activities took place primarily behind the Huntington Bank building, with an activity tent where kids could learn about outer space.
Behind Quaker Steak & Lube, Anthony Martone of New Castle held a demonstration with his red-tailed hawk, Cornflake, that kids and adults enjoyed.
Surprise guests came in the form of three bubble blowers who showed up in the parking lot and stirred kids into a frenzy with their impressive array of bubbles.
“We don’t schedule times to come out because if we did it would probably rain,” Lee Sedgwick of Erie said.
Organizers were expecting around 15,000 people for the lighting of the torches and the braziers in the river. The event was up against other events including high school homecoming dances, Meszaros said.
“There were at least 15,000 people here tonight,” Joanne Titus of Delaware Township said. “It was very nice and calming.”
Meszaros attended a conference in Providence 2è year ago while one of their WaterFire events was going on, Redfern said. Meszaros told him, “Sharon needs something like this.”
Meszaros said sites are chosen by the originators of WaterFire in Providence, similar to a franchise. WaterFire officials reviewed applications from cities including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Venice, Rome – and Sharon.
The Sharon people impressed those in Providence. “Sharon kind of chose us,” Redfern said.
After visiting Sharon, Redfern reported back, “These people don’t need a lot of help.”
“I can’t tell you how enthused I am to work with motivated people who want to bring the community together,” Redfern said.
During each WaterFire Sharon event, Redfern strolled around downtown, talking to people and shop owners to see what they think of WaterFire Sharon. He said he met people from New Jersey, a large group from Florida, and a group from Boston, which is “down the street” from Providence, he noted.
Plans are for three WaterFire events in 2014. Meszaros said they will be spaced out by six weeks or more, compared to shorter interim periods this year.