TARPON SPRINGS — A month ago, it looked like residents would have to leave the city to watch fireworks this Independence Day.
Enter Tarpon Springs resident Dave Ulgenalp.
On Friday, Ulgenalp and his wife, Lisa, donated $18,000 to fund the annual fireworks display at Fred Howard Park.
"How do you celebrate the Fourth of July without fireworks? What's the first thing that comes to mind with the Fourth? It's fireworks," said Dave Ulgenalp, 49.
The couple, along with Mike and Sally Schmidt, own and operate bd's Mongolian Grill, which has locations in Oldsmar, Lakeland and Altamonte Springs.
The restaurant was able to make the donation after a busy Memorial Day weekend, which Ulgenalp attributed to a larger number of residents staying in town for the holiday this year.
Customers tell him they're not going anywhere over the next long holiday weekend, either.
"Talking with our friends, it's amazing how many people are sticking around for the Fourth instead of heading out of town," Ulgenalp said.
Mayor Beverley Billiris said she's hearing similar stories from residents.
"I think we are going to have a larger turnout locally with our local businesses," Billiris said. "I think families are going to stay home."
Commissioners decided in early May to forgo fireworks this summer, choosing instead to use money budgeted for the event to repair and relocate the city's emergency AM radio station, which has been inoperable for several months.
Two weeks later, a communications company donated $5,000 to the city, which commissioners agreed to use for a "patriotic picnic" to be held during the day at Craig Park on Spring Bayou, in lieu of the annual fireworks.
That event will go on as planned, said interim City Manager Mark LeCouris.
Residents will have time to attend the picnic before heading out to Howard Park for the fireworks, LeCouris said.
Once the Ulgenalps came forward with the donation Friday, staff was able to sign Melrose Pyrotechnics to run the show.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or [email protected]