ST. PETE BEACH — Budget cuts forced the city to eliminate a July Fourth fireworks display, but thanks to local business owners and residents, the long-standing tradition will be upheld.
The announcement that the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce was organizing a fireworks display to be held behind the TradeWinds Resort came during Tuesday's commission meeting, when retired beach resident Steve McFarland asked the city to contribute $5,000 on behalf of the chamber.
"As we get closer to the Fourth, nobody's really acknowledged what we're going to do here," McFarland said, adding that visitors headed to St. Pete Beach for the holiday were in for a big surprise if there was no fireworks display.
When the commission hesitated to donate the desired $5,000, citing concerns over safety and budgetary constraints, members of the audience began offering up donations.
First to speak up was Ken Dunphy, a Canadian whose mother-in-law runs the Florida Dolphin and Carlida motels.
Dunphy told the commissioners he has been bringing his family to watch the fireworks on St. Pete Beach for 25 years, and offered $500 to help make them happen.
Others quickly followed suit, offering $20 or $100.
"This is St. Pete Beach, it's dependent on tourism and I can't for the life of me understand why these guys are being penny wise and pound foolish," Dunphy said after the meeting.
The commission finally agreed to chip in $1,500.
"I'm disappointed that we couldn't give them more and we couldn't afford to do it as a city sponsored event," Mayor Michael Finnerty said, adding that he was glad someone came up with a solution.
"It would be almost unpatriotic not to have fireworks on the Fourth of July," he said.
The commission decided in April to cancel plans for a city sponsored event.
The fireworks were going to be launched from an offshore barge, as required by city policy after last year's July Fourth display ended with a ground level explosion that injured a dozen people and damaged several properties.
The cost of the display along with the additional expense of the barge would have been about $36,000. Only $25,000 had been budgeted and additional donations would have been needed.
Bell's Fireworks, the company that provided last year's show, has been contracted for the display planned for July Fourth and another the following day, both behind the TradeWinds Resort.
By using smaller shells that may still be launched from the beach the cost of the show will be much less expensive than one using a barge — about $15,000.
That's less than half of what the city's plan would have cost.
As of Wednesday the chamber had collected about $13,000.
Business owners and residents were quick to support the event despite political tensions that have often divided the city, chamber president Robin Grabowski said.
"The chamber has been getting a lot of calls as a result of everyone coming together as a community," she said.
Nick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 893-8361.