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Private donations ensure that Tampa Bay sees Fourth of July fireworks

The sagging economy has canceled fireworks displays around the country, but the Tampa Bay area has found a way to keep the skies ablaze this July Fourth.

Local governments have turned to sponsors and local fundraising campaigns, even in residential neighborhoods.

"When I look in my kids' eyes during the fireworks shows, their eyes get as large as a silver dollar," said Rick Falkenstein, owner of the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant on St. Pete Beach. "We need to do this for the little guys because they're going to be missing out."

With the average display costing $15,000 to $40,000, the little guys are starting to lose out. Some cities started removing the shows from their budgets years ago. One fireworks display could cost as much as a city employee's salary, they reasoned.

Hence, no bombs will be bursting in air for Yonkers, N.Y., or Mesa, Ariz. Even Miami has axed one of its two popular shows.

St. Petersburg won't have that problem.

The city hasn't paid for its fireworks since 2005, said Clarence Scott, city services administrator.

For the past few years its $30,000 show on the Pier has been covered by Clear Channel, a national radio conglomerate that, in turn, gets extensive publicity.

Treasure Island's $12,000 show is being covered by residents, business owners and the city's chamber of commerce. Last year's bill was covered by a single family. And in Largo, local company BayStar Hotel Group is paying for the city's $14,000 show.

The smaller the city, the bigger the burden.

St. Pete Beach and Tarpon Springs almost canceled their shows last year.

After announcing cancellations, both cities had residents raising tens of thousands of dollars in mere weeks. St. Pete Beach citizens had to raise $12,000 for this year's $27,000 show.

Starting that fundraising charge was Falkenstein, who made a $400 donation at a St. Pete Beach commission meeting.

"I said I'd like to challenge everybody to match or come up with something because we just can't let the fireworks stop," he said.

If the fireworks were to stop this year, Falkenstein said, it could hurt business for years to come. Maybe the fireworks won't ever come back, he said.

The Tarpon Springs show is canceled this year, but not necessarily because of budget cuts.

Access to the main park from which most people watched the show has been blocked by a construction project, said Arie Walker, city finance director.

"That and no money was budgeted for it last year," she added.

In Hillsborough County, Plant City is not having a fireworks show this year and canceled last year's because of costs.

But Bell's Fireworks in Tampa hasn't had any cancellations in the area, said president Robert Stahl.

"There are a lot of smaller cities that rely on tourism during the holidays," he said. "Fireworks on the beach are the main draw, and without that they'll be seeing people booking rooms and condos in other areas."

Andy Boyle can be reached at aboyle@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8087.

Who pays

Treasure Island: $12,000, with money donated by citizens and chamber of commerce

St. Petersburg: $30,000, sponsorship from Clear Channel

Safety Harbor: $25,000, with $1,000 in donations from Safety Harbor American Legion

Largo: $14,000, sponsorship from BayStar Hotel Group

Redington Shores: $12,000 with $3,000 donated by residents and businesses

Private donations ensure that Tampa Bay sees Fourth of July fireworks 06/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 11:20am]

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