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Wallets pop open to light Fourth

The show must go on.

At least that's the charge some Tampa Bay businesses and residents took to heart when faced with the possibility of canceling Fourth of July fireworks shows.

City officials in Tarpon Springs initially called off the fireworks show after an unexpected expense put a dent in its operating budget, while St. Pete Beach's budget cuts nearly forced its show to fizzle.

But for residents like Dave Ulgenalp of Tarpon Springs, it was easy to take steps to save the canceled firework shows.

The Tarpon Springs fireworks display was initially canceled after the city reallocated funds to repair equipment needed to operate the city's emergency AM radio station.

That's when Ulgenalp and his wife, Lisa, co-owners of bd's Mongolian Grill restaurant, donated $18,000 to Tarpon Springs to host a display.

"I really feel like fireworks are important, especially when times are tough" said Dave Ulgenalp, who, along with business partners Mike and Sally Schmidt, operate bd's Mongolian Grills in Oldsmar, Lakeland and Altamonte Springs.

Ulgenalp posted record numbers at his restaurant on Memorial Day weekend, which he attributed to a poor economy which kept many residents in the Tampa Bay area for the holiday.

He said he expects the same for the Fourth of July and wanted the city to have a fireworks display.

The city will now host its largest firework show with a 20- to 25-minute display at Fred Howard Park, said Judy Staley, research and information officer for Tarpon Springs.

"It was really nice of him to come forward," Staley said.

Meanwhile, residents of St. Pete Beach also took action to secure funds for a firework display.

Steve McFarlin, a 51-year-old retiree, led an effort to raise $20,000 in two weeks after St. Pete Beach city officials announced budget cuts and the cancellation of the city's show.

Thanks to area businesses and hotels, a 20-minute fireworks display will be fired from an offshore barge and can be viewed from the county park at 4700 Gulf Blvd., located across from Dolphin Village.

"It's just a good community spirit deal," McFarlin said. "It just worked out for everybody."

In Gulfport, Mercedez Perez of the leisure services department said the city's show will be at the Gulfport Casino at 9 p.m.

The current economic woes were anticipated as far back as last summer, said Perez, and fiscal adjustments were made to serve as a buffer to protect the fireworks display.

"We moved our budget around in order to keep it the same length," Perez said of the show scheduled to last 20 to 25 minutes.

Brandon residents will benefit from the sponsorship of the Westfield-Brandon Shopping Mall. Westfield marketing director, Dawn Richter, said they had no issue financing the show and expects the mall parking lot to be filled with onlookers.

The Brandon show will be seen from the mall's 459 Brandon Town Center Drive location, will last about 30 minutes and will begin at 9 p.m., she said.

Effects of the economy had limited impact on the St. Petersburg and Tampa firework shows, which are expected to feature the largest crowds in the Tampa Bay area.

Polly Brannon of the St. Petersburg Recreation Department said the 21-minute show can be seen at 9 p.m. along the downtown waterfront and near the Pier. Inclement weather could force the show to start as early as 8:30 p.m. or as late as 10 p.m., she said.

In Tampa, the Channelside Bay Plaza is hosting the city's Fourth of July fireworks display. There will be a 20-minute display at 615 Channelside Drive between the St. Pete Times Forum and Aquarium.

Eddie R. Cole can be reached at or (727) 893-8779

Firework show locations

CityLocation, timeDuration
St. PetersburgDowntown waterfront at 9 p.m.21 minutes
Tampa615 Channelside Drive between the St. Pete Times Forum and Aquarium at 9 p.m.20 minutes
GulfportGulfport Casino at 5500 Shore Blvd. S at 9 p.m.20 - 25 minutes
ClearwaterCoachman Park at 301 Drew St. at 9:30 p.m.25-30 minutes
BrandonThe Westfield mall at 459

Brandon Town Center at 9 p.m.
30 minutes
Tarpon SpringsFred Howard Park at 1700

Sunset Drive at 8:30 p.m.
20-25 minutes
St. Pete BeachPinellas County park at 4700 Gulf Blvd. at dusk20 minutes

Wallets pop open to light Fourth 06/30/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2008 1:33pm]
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