The cities of Clearwater and Largo will once again light up the skies for the Fourth of July this year after elected officials gave their respective staffs the green light to plan shows.
Last year, the pandemic forced cities throughout Pinellas County to cancel the annual displays celebrating Independence Day. As the vaccination effort picks up steam, officials said they are now more comfortable with the ideas of larger crowds at BayCare Ballpark and Largo Central Park.
“I support us going forward. I think people want to get some normalcy,” Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said May. 3.
But that doesn’t mean the events will be the same.
Coachman Park, where Clearwater typically held its July 4 festivities, is under construction as part of the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment project, so officials have made other plans.
“It is our view that having fireworks for the Fourth of July is best located at the ballpark versus trying to do it at the beach,” City Manager Bill Horne said, referring to BayCare Ballpark, which currently hosts the Clearwater Threshers, a minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“We think our residents would be a little offended if their only option was to go to the beach and they live on the mainland, and we know how traffic will be very challenging on July 4th,” he said.
He said the Threshers are also planning shows on July 2-3, but that residents should expect a slightly more subdued show because of the ballpark’s proximity to U.S. 19 and neighborhoods.
“We obviously will not have a fireworks display that is consistent with what we have come to expect because we use some pretty big shells and we also have some residential areas that live somewhere around the ballpark,” he said.
How many people that will be allowed into the ballpark is still somewhat unclear. In the wake of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, the county has rescinded its ordinance restricting large-scale events. However, the fireworks would follow a Threshers game and Major League Baseball is still limiting crowd sizes to 2,200 people. While the city isn’t limited by MLB restrictions, Kris Koch, senior manager of events and athletics, said Threshers’ personnel is more comfortable with handling a smaller crowd.
Koch said staff also examined potentially holding shows at two locations, but it appears the ballpark was the preferred location.
The city of Largo staff also explored the idea of having two separate displays on both sides of the city, such as at Datsko Park and the golf course.
City commissioners, however, said parking would likely be an issue at both of those locations and that Central Park and the surrounding area provide plenty of space for people to feel comfortable.
“I would rather see one good display with a good grand finale than a couple of smaller ones,” Commissioner Eric Gerard said.