ST. PETE BEACH — St. Pete Beach commissioners will consider going high-tech for July 4th and provide a drone light show rather than providing traditional fireworks.
The drone light show would utilize several small drones, with colored lights to produce synchronized light displays that project images in the night sky, such as an American flag.
Chief Operating Officer Jennifer McMahon told city commissioners in getting ready for Independence Day, staff was wondering if there is a preference between fireworks and a drone show.
“We’ve looked at some drone show operators,” she advised. “We were looking at some other options that are environmentally safer to do, something that is a little bit different, that attracts a little more attention.”
She added pet owners would be particularly thankful for the lack of loud bangs from exploding fireworks.
On its website, drone show provider Verge Aero notes “drone light shows are performed by illuminated, synchronized, and choreographed groups of drones that arrange themselves into various aerial formations. Almost any image can be recreated in the sky by a computer program that turns graphics into flight commands and communicates them to the drones.”
On his website, Palm Beach drone law attorney Jonathan Rupprecht states that “100 to 150 drones is usually the minimum number of drones required for a show. Content drives the number of drones required. Because each drone is a pixel, complex shapes and long words need more drones than simple shapes and short words.”
The cost of a show is ranges between $350 and $700 per drone, depending on a variety of factors such as show complexity, location, and planning timeline, Rupprecht said.
McMahon asked the commission for feedback whether to go with fireworks or a drone show.
She said the city has budgeted $30,000 for fireworks, with a drone show being about the same depending on how many drones are used. The length of the show would be 10 to 12 minutes.
McMahon noted a drone show can be set off from anywhere in St. Pete Beach. “If you did it at Upham Beach, they set up in a small square area on the beach and (the drones) go up and over the water. If you do them in Horan Park, they line them up in Horan Park and they can go up and over the water.”
Commissioners will make a decision on which light show they prefer at a future commission meeting.
City commissioners will also consider expanding Freebee service, especially during peak hours, at a future commission meeting.
During an April 11 meeting, Mayor Adrian Petrila told fellow commissioners he received “a lot of comments, emails and phone calls from residents with overwhelmingly positive experiences with the Freebee.”
“I’ve used it dozens of times myself,” the mayor said. “I think it’s a great way to mitigate some of the traffic issues that we have by being able to take cars off the road, keep them on the hotel properties or at home.”
An added plus is in using electric vehicles versus those with internal combustion engines.
However, he noted, “One of the challenges that comes up over and over again is I can take a freebee to the restaurant, but then I can’t take it back home at 9 p.m., because it’s full.
“I was wondering if there is any interest in having a discussion about (whether) there is a way to maybe give priority to St. Pete Beach residents, whether it’s through the service provider or through the app,” he said. “Since we’re spending $400,000 to $500,000 a year on the service, and primarily it’s residents who are paying for it, it might be a nice benefit to residents, especially in the areas where the buses don’t go.”
Commissioner Chris Marone said he would like to avoid having more rideshare services such as Uber coming into town because folks can’t get on the Freebee.
“I would rather have, if the demand calls for it, more Freebees,” Marone said.
City Manager Alex Rey said demand peaks somewhere between 7 and 9 p.m.
He said the city can ask the provider whether they can reconfigure the app to have it priority-based on zones or account profiles.
He told commissioners if they want another Freebee vehicle for peak periods, “I can cost that out, to let you know how much it will cost just to have another vehicle that addresses the peak.”
Commissioners will look at expanding Freebee service at a future meeting.