CLEARWATER — The city has canceled its annual July 4 fireworks show, traditionally one of Tampa Bay’s largest and most watched displays, as a precaution to prevent large crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Clearwater police officers have already been providing extra patrols on Clearwater Beach to enforce social distancing since Pinellas County reopened the beaches after a six-week shutdown. And with the difficulty of keeping fireworks watchers six feet apart, considering the crowds that gather each year in downtown’s Coachman Park and Clearwater Beach for the show, the City Council on Thursday voted unanimously to scrap the display.
“Once the people are in the park or on the causeway or wherever we have it, it doesn’t matter how many police officers we have, it is not going to be fair or safe for either our citizens or our officers to deal with that situation,” Mayor Frank Hibbard said. “I think it’s tragic and disappointing but I think it’s the right call.”
On Friday morning, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also announced the city would likely cancel its Boom by the Bay fireworks and entertainment celebration. Her spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said that the city is considering a virtual fireworks show, but nothing definite has been decided.
Clearwater had considered alternatives to canceling the show altogether. Kris Koch, Clearwater’s manager of special events and athletics, said one option was to work with neighboring cities, like Tampa, St. Petersburg and Dunedin, to host coordinated fireworks displays where deployment locations would not be disclosed ahead of time.
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter, however, worried the locations would be leaked out, making crowd congregation an issue. Koch also outlined options for hosting multiple fireworks locations throughout the city to encourage smaller groups. A memo from Koch also included a drive-in option, where the city could open a lot on a first-come, first-served basis.
Each alternative had drawbacks, from unintended traffic backups to logistical complications and police manpower issues.
Slaughter said he is expecting this year’s daytime July 4 patrol on Clearwater Beach to be “a difficult and complicated and manpower-intensive role” as officers work to manage the large groups expected for the holiday. He said a fireworks show at night would create more of a risk.
Also Thursday, the organizers of fireworks displays in Siesta Key and Sarasota announced each would cancel their events this year.
“It pains, I think, a lot of us to even think we might have to pass on this but I think there would be significant crowd management issues that would just be a lot to ask I think in the current environment,” Slaughter said. “To come out and put another monster on the backs, it really could be a big demand."
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