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City of Tampa taking over troubled July 4 fireworks show

[City of Tampa]
[City of Tampa]
Published Jun. 10, 2019

TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor doesn't want a repeat of the last two Fourth of July fireworks shows in Tampa.

So she is starting a new tradition: The city will run it.

Last year's fizzle left spectators disappointed and angry when the show ended after just eight minutes. The organizers, Friends of the Riverwalk, said a reduced $18,000 budget was partially responsible for the mishap. The previous year, a computer glitch led to a long delay and cut the show in half.

READ MORE: Fourth of July shows fizzle on both sides of the bay

On Monday, Castor said four fireworks shows along 2.5 miles of the Hillsborough River from Armature Works to Sparkman Wharf would inaugurate "Boom by the Bay," the city's newest tradition.

"I want to kick off my time in office with a big bang," she said in a two-minute video posted to her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Castor's announcement was made possible by $150,000 in private donations raised for the first year of city sponsorship.

The city will contract with a vendor to shoot the fireworks, but the show will be the city's responsibility, said Castor spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

Bauman said she "and a few other people" dialed up donors to raise the cash. No political committee was formed for the effort, she said.

Castor promised more details on the event over the next few weeks. It'll be a low bar to beat last year. That 9 p.m. show near the Convention Center started early and went way short, sending local Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds into a collective groan.

It was even worse across the bay, where St. Petersburg officials canceled a show 30 minutes after its 9 p.m. scheduled start. People had waited on the waterfront for hours before the city pulled the plug.

The next day, city officials blamed the vendor, Creative Pyrotechnics, for waiting until the last minute to inform them that bad weather across the state caused logistical problems. They said they wouldn't use Creative again and vowed not to honor the $25,000 contract.

St. Petersburg Leisure Services Administrator Mike Jefferis said the city has an ongoing lawsuit against Creative, which it hasn't paid. The city calculated its spent about $61,000 in staff expenses for the failed event, including police and fire protection.

The city went out to bid and selected a new vendor for this year's show. An Iowa company, J &M Display, won the contract and has promised to be fully set up near the Vinoy by July 3 at noon, Jefferis said.

"We've had several heart to heart conversations with them to make sure they understand we can't have anything close to what happened last year," Jefferis said.

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