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Plenty of fireworks on social media about how July 4 shows fizzled in St Pete, Tampa

To those upset at the Tampa fireworks show, organizers said afterward that they had always planned for it to last no longer than eight minutes. The show in Clearwater, by comparison, lasted more than 20 minutes. [Courtesy of Keir Magoulas]
To those upset at the Tampa fireworks show, organizers said afterward that they had always planned for it to last no longer than eight minutes. The show in Clearwater, by comparison, lasted more than 20 minutes. [Courtesy of Keir Magoulas]
Published Jul. 5, 2018

In the skies over Tampa Bay's two biggest cities, the Fourth of July didn't exactly sparkle.

Fireworks shows in St. Petersburg and Tampa fizzled, leaving disappointed crowds and sponsors scrambling on Thursday for an explanation.

In St. Petersburg, people waited hours on the waterfront for a 9:15 p.m. show before the city announced at 9:45 p.m. that it was canceled for technical difficulties. City officials blamed the vendor and said they won't pay the bill.

Across the bay, the threat of lightning drove organizers to punch the button early on a show that didn't last long to begin with, delivering the city a dud for the second year in a row.

Many people in the crowds took to social media with their disappointment.

One tweeter, Allyson Mitchell, said she wasted hours in the rain for the St. Petersburg show then asked, "Can anybody in FL shoot off a firework?"

Even people who say they rarely tweet got worked up enough to complain in public, like John F. Callahan, who wrote, "Several friends told me not to risk downtown St. Pete. Wow! What a mistake! I wasted a lot to do this."

St. Petersburg was caught off guard, said Mike Jefferis, leisure services administrator.

All day, Creative Pyrotechnics had assured city employees that the show was good to go for 9:15 p.m. That changed 45 minutes before show time, Jefferis said.

"We didn't have any notice the show wasn't going to go on," Jefferis said. "We would've preferred to have canceled it earlier on if the vendor had given us the information, but honestly they waited until the very last minute to tell us this show was a no-go."

St. Petersburg has used
Creative Pyrotechnics nearly a decade for its main events,
Jefferis said. But after last night, the city lost faith in the company and will not be using it again, he said. The city will not pay Creative Pyrotechnics, which had a $25,000 contract for a 20-minute show, he said.

The Orlando company told city officials they deliver products for shows all over the state but heavy rains slowed their schedule earlier in the day. By the time they reached St. Petersburg, Jefferis said, they didn't have enough time and materials for a proper show.

"They did have a small amount of display available to set up, but nothing that would be worth putting up in the air," Jefferis said.

There is no plan to reschedule the show. The company didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Next door in Gulfport, the fireworks also were cancelled, but Creative Pyrotechnics planned a makeup show at 9 p.m. Thursday, according to a city news release. Temple Terrace announced beforehand Wednesday that its show would be canceled.

In the Tampa Bay area's third-largest city, Clearwater, the fireworks went off without a hitch, ending with a spectacular finale. The 21-minute show cost $50,000, said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.

In Tampa, the show was planned for 9 p.m. near the Convention Center but it started early and lasted just eight minutes, leaving many disappointed and some angry at the expense of parking downtown.

A scaled-back budget for the show this year, just over $18,000, reduced the planned length, said Jason Carroll, executive director of co-sponsor Friends of the Riverwalk. What's more, fireworks are usually launched from the Channelside area but construction on the Water Street project prompted the move to the Convention Center, Carroll said.

The decision to start early was made at the suggestion of the Tampa Police Department because bad weather was approaching, he said. Organizers made the decision to start five minutes early rather than delay and possibly cancel the show, he said.

The city of Tampa was a co-sponsor but had nothing to do with conducting the show, said Ashley Bauman, Mayor Bob Buckhorn's spokeswoman.

The city's contribution included $20,000 from its downtown Community Redevelopment Area fund, which paid for police and fire protection, Bauman said. The New Jersey company that staged the show will be paid, Carroll said.

Last year, a computer glitch led to a long delay and ultimately cut in half a planned 15-minute show, a fact noted in many angry social media posts.

Should Friends of the Riverwalk continue running the Tampa show?

"That's a conversation to be had with the next administration," Bauman said, referring to Buckhorn's departure at the end of his term early next year.

She noted that the city put on its own fireworks show without a hitch in May to celebrate the opening of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.