The skies over Tampa Bay this July 4th will be much quieter than usual. Clearwater has canceled its signature show and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor all but did the same Friday, with leaders in both cities saying the coronavirus pandemic made such events too dangerous.
Clearwater police are already providing extra patrol on Clearwater Beach to enforce social distancing requirements. Officials feared the added congregation would be too risky, as the show is normally one of the bay area’s most attended for its fireworks that explode over the Intracoastal Waterway.
"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 before the City Council voted unanimously Thursday evening to ax the display. “I think it’s tragic and disappointing but I think it’s the right call.”
Castor made her announcement during a Cafè con Tampa Facebook Live appearance, saying the city’s Boom by the Bay fireworks and entertainment event was not being planned. Her spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said that the city is considering a virtual fireworks show, but nothing definite has been decided.
“We don’t intend to bring that large crowd together right now, but again, there’s so many unknowns with this virus,” Castor said.
As of Friday, officials in St. Petersburg, Largo, Safety Harbor and Treasure Island had not yet decided the fates of their displays.
“Certainly (Clearwater canceling) does have an impact because that’s our larger neighbor to the north ... but we haven’t made a decision yet," Largo Mayor Woody Brown said.
The cities of Gulfport and Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County have also canceled their shows. To the south, officials in Siesta Key and Sarasota announced on Thursday their events were called off as well.
“It’s one thing if policy decisions were being driven by economics to reopen; we understand that and support our businesses," Gulfport Mayor Samuel Henderson said. “But as a city inviting people to gather in close quarters where it’s going to be very difficult to maintain social distancing, we were very uncomfortable inviting people to congregate that way.”
Temple Terrace’s 46th annual show planned at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club is still scheduled to take place, according to city marketing and communications officer Laurie Hayes.
“At this point we are full speed ahead in our planning,” Hayes said.
Clearwater had considered alternatives to canceling the show altogether. Kris Koch, 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, making 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 July 4 daytime 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.
“It pains 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 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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