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City officials hope event is a blast, but not as in past

(ran SE edition of LT)

A few months ago, St. Petersburg officials cringed at the sound of the name and the explosive memories it conjured up.

"Boomsday," Tampa's annual fireworks display, was driven out of that city last year after residents along Bayshore Boulevard complained that the pyrotechnics show jammed their neighborhood streets with cars and drew a rowdy, drunken audience.

St. Petersburg officials said they would adopt the display, but had no use for its old reputation, disorderly audience members, or even the old name. That all had to change, they told the sponsors of Boomsday last fall.

The name has changed to "Toyota Blast," but recent radio promotions for the March 25 event intentionally call to mind the old event. "Boomsday has a new name and a new location," a promotion on WFLA-AM 970 said last week.

With less than three weeks until St. Petersburg holds the fireworks show for the first time, city officials say they remain concerned about keeping the festivities calm, family-oriented and orderly. They say they are confident, though, that a new approach to the show and its new alliance with the Festival of States will prevent a repeat performance of Tampa's Boomsday, even with the latest memory-stirring promotions.

"I wish they had dropped all the ties with "Boomsday,' " Council Chairman Robert Stewart said when told about the radio spots. "But my concern is again tempered by the fact that I hope and believe that the Suncoasters and the Festival of States will control the event to the extent that it will be appropriate to St. Petersburg's waterfront. Based on that, I've got to believe it'll come off and be a successful event."

The Suncoasters, a civic organization that sponsors St. Petersburg's yearly Festival of States, will incorporate the fireworks display, arranged by the radio station and sponsored by Toyota, into the festival's first night this year. The festival, St. Petersburg's premier annual celebration, marks its 73rd year from March 25 through April 10.

In addition to the Toyota Blast, the non-profit festival has changed in ways to cope with a debt of $50,000 that has accumulated in the past two years and to boost its attendance numbers, said Rui Farias, marketing director for the festival. For the first time, major events in the festival's final weekend will take place at the ThunderDome, Farias said.

The huge fireworks display _ billed as the largest in the Southeastern United States _ will be set off from barges near the waterfront at 8 p.m. Color Me Badd, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, and the Inmates will perform in Vinoy Park the night of Toyota Blast.

Gabe Hobbs, operations manager for radio stations WFLA-AM 970 and WFLZ-FM 93.3, said he has heard no complaints about the radio spots that remind listeners of Boomsdays gone by. The fireworks themselves are what the old name calls to mind, Hobbs said.

"We couldn't pretend like this was something totally different _ that would be potentially a fatal error," Hobbs said. "We thought it was very important. "Boomsday' became synonymous with huge fireworks displays. We don't want that lost on the public."

Farias described the current radio promotion package as "just an educational time" to make people aware of the new setup.

Festival of States, including Toyota Blast, will not be the same as Boomsday, he said. "The events that surround (the fireworks) are going to be completely different," Farias said. "The only thing they want to refer to is the fireworks display."

Mayor David Fischer says he is waiting for results.

If St. Petersburg's fireworks show winds up like Tampa's, it won't last, he said. "Yes, I'm concerned," Fischer said. "If it ends up a Boomsday, it will have a one-time shot in this city. If that happens, it'll be here one time. That's all."

Since the announcement that the fireworks were moving to St. Petersburg after four years on the other side of the bay, residents in the city's North Shore neighborhood have voiced fears about a repeat of Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. The prospects of crammed parking and crowded streets top North Shore residents' list of worries, neighborhood association leaders said.

City officials have pledged to avoid Tampa's troubles. Officials have predicted that 100,000 people will attend the St. Petersburg fireworks show, compared with three times that number in Tampa, and alcohol will be restricted to fenced areas.

"I think that our effort is to remold Boomsday," said City Council member Connie Kone. "We want to put it in conjunction with the type of event we have in St. Petersburg."

Police will direct traffic out of the area after the show and will patrol the waterfront parks during the display to make sure alcohol stays in restricted areas, said Sgt. Dave DeKay, who coordinates special events for the Police Department. Officers cannot close streets to parking, though, DeKay said.

Officials have not determined how many officers will work on a special detail that night, DeKay said. "We'll have enough people," he said.

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