CLEARWATER — The city of Clearwater has canceled its annual Fourth of July fireworks display, citing concerns over crowd control and the enforcement of social distancing practices.
“It doesn’t matter how many police officers we have, it is not going to be fair or safe for either our citizens our police officers,” said Mayor Frank Hibbard during a May 21 council meeting. “I think it’s tragic and disappointing, but it’s the right call.”
The council’s decision was prompted by a request from the city’s fireworks vendor to sign a contract for the event — one of Tampa Bay’s largest displays each year.
Kris Koch, manager of special events for the city’s parks and recreation department, presented council members with a few potential options for a fireworks display that would not allow in-person attendees.
The first was a virtual fireworks display posted on the city’s website and social media; a drive-in concept where residents would be asked to drive to the location but remain in their vehicles; and a small community approach, which would allow for several smaller displays throughout the city.
The display is traditionally held in Coachman Park.
“This is a no-win situation,” Hibbard said. “We will be labeled unpatriotic if we don’t have fireworks and then once we have huge crowds down there, we will be responsible for the huge crowds.”
Council member Hoyt Hamilton said he felt like some of the
smaller beach communities
would be looking to Clearwater to take all the risks associated with the event.
“A lot of the smaller beach communities are looking at Clearwater to be the big brother, so that we will have our fireworks, so that they don’t to have theirs,” Hamilton said. “Their people can come up and flood our area and put that much more strain on our law enforcement and community.”
Police Chief Daniel Slaughter told council members his biggest concerns were manpower and crowd control.
“With the traditional display downtown, it creates a large density of people watching, not only in Coachman Park but even along our beach,” Slaughter said. “I think there would be significant crowd-management issues that would be a lot to ask in the current environment.
“I’m patriotic and I love this country as much as anyone else who sits on this dais regularly,” he continued. “And it pains a lot of us to think we may have to pass on this.”
Council members agreed with the chief and unanimously voted to cancel the celebration.
Prospects for fireworks elsewhere are not looking promising either.
The Clearwater Threshers, which also hosts an annual Fourth of July fireworks display at Spectrum Field, confirmed with Tampa Bay Newspapers that there were no plans to host in-park festivities for the foreseeable future, and that their display has been canceled as well.
Largo, which holds its annual event at Central Park, has yet to make a decision, but City Manager Henry Schubert told TBN it’s looking doubtful.
“We have not made a final decision” Schubert wrote in an email. “However considering the need for social distancing and the decision by our neighbors to cancel their events, I believe we will ultimately need to cancel ours as well.”
He added that it will be the City Commission that makes the call, though.
Madeira Beach commissioners also said recently a show is unlikely.
Mayor John Hendricks said mass gathering limitations combined with budget restrictions meant he was leaning toward canceling the show.
“It’s my feeling that we forgo the Fourth of July fireworks this year,” he said. “And I hate to do it, but it’s money that the city doesn’t have.”
However, City Manager Bob Daniels is suggesting the city hold a Fourth of July boat parade during the day.
“We feel this is the best way to have a fun community activity, while keeping social distancing,” Daniels wrote in a memo to commissioners, who were expected to discuss it at their May 27 meeting.
Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos said his city’s fireworks have yet to be canceled, but the topic was expected to be discussed at the City Commission’s May 26 meeting.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Gulfport has canceled its show, and officials in St. Petersburg and Treasure Island have yet to decide.