Palm Coast launched its first Independence Day fireworks show in Central Park in 2010. If at first it was seen as competition for Flagler Beach’s iconic show off the pier, it never proved to be so: the two shows have complemented each other, Palm Coast always careful to hold its own on an alternate day so as not to encroach on Flagler Beach’s. Over the years, the two shows have only drawn bigger crowds.
So big in Palm Coast that the city is now considering shifting its show venue away from Town Center and to the nearby Flagler County airport’s grounds–to accommodate more people, easier parking and bigger fireworks. The city administration will pitch the option to the Palm Coast City Council at a workshop next week.
“In 2021, the park reached a capacity of over 5,000 people, not including the people in the streets, sidewalks, and other parking areas,” an administrative memo briefing the proposal states. The memo estimates the event draws up to 10,000 people when those not necessarily in the park are included. “This resulted in some concerns about parking and traffic control.”
The administration’s Lauren Johnston, director of parks and recreation, is pitching two options that really amount to a pitch for a change of venue. The first option is to keep the show in Central Park. The option gives the city full control of the event (and the city absorbs all its costs), using sheriff’s deputies for security and its own public works staff for traffic control. It’s not a small burden. In 2021, the city used 16 public works staffers for the event, the sheriff’s office assigned nine deputies and four of its volunteer patrols.
But the fireworks are shot from the City Place extension north of City Hall, requiring a 350-foot-diamatere clearance, with several roads in Town Center closing 10 minutes before the show, and through the show: City Place, Park Street, Central Avenue, Bulldog Drive and Lake Avenue.
The area around the location where the fireworks are set off is slated to be developed sooner or later, so it’s a matter of time before the venue is not usable, anyway.
Currently Central Park accommodates 454 parking spaces, with an additional 111 spaces at City Hall and 252 spaces in adjacent streets. But it’s generally understood that the July 3 event is a traffic nightmare, making it uninviting for many.
Finally, there’s a 5-inch limit on the size of the fireworks shells that may be used at that setting. Significantly larger shells could be used at the airport, as they are in Flagler Beach.
The benefits of moving the show to the airport–where events organized by Flagler Broadcasting routinely include fireworks shows–would include a much larger viewing area for the public. There would not be any road closures. Parking could include Flagler Palm Coast High School. Costs could be reduced. Traffic would be easier to control, with more entry and exit points. But the plan would also require new partnerships between the city and the county–that has not been an issue: County Administrator Heidi Petito has a working relationship with Mayor David Alfin and Interim Manager Denise Bevan, and Johnston has an ongoing partnership with county parks officials.
It’ll be up to the city council to give its administration direction on the next July 3 event, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday. But the administration clearly favors going with the airport option, and has had discussions to that effect. “There has been a meeting of the minds,” Brittany kershaw, the city’s chief spokesperson, said today, with discussions including Roy Sieger, the airport director, David Ayres, the general manager at Flagler Broadcasting, internal city departments and representatives from the county, Flagler Beach and the Sheriff’s Office.
Not included in next Tuesday’s talking points is a question the council may have to face eventually: whether the Tourist Development Council will continue to pay the annual $20,000 expense for the 21-minute show, which has been produced by Flagler County-based Fireworks by Santore. The TDC also pays the same bill for Flagler Beach’s show. But last year during meetings of Flagler Beach’s Ad Hoc Committee re-examining the city’s own July 4 events, including the fireworks, county tourism Director Amy Lukasik cautioned that the council may not continue funding the show year after year, promoting talk of shifting the cost to the city, or a combination of city funds and private funds, especially from businesses. The tourism council would almost certainly not cut off Flagler Beach but keep paying for Palm Coast’s show.
The Flagler Beach committee considered the possibility of abandoning the fireworks and ceding the event to Palm Coast, but in the end opted against that option in the recommendations it is submitting to the Flagler Beach City Commission on Jan. 13. The committee found the fireworks to be too central to the city’s celebrations, and identity, even as it faces a similar crunch of people, traffic and safety.