The Palm Coast City administration today was seeking the council’s direction on whether to move Independence Day fireworks away from Town Center and to the nearby county airport. Large crowds are compromising safety and making traffic management difficult at Central Park, where July 3 fireworks have been held for a decade. The council is fine with the shift, assuming county officials are willing.
Then came the unexpected.
Three of the five council members said they want to see fireworks on July 4 rather than on July 3rd, clashing with Flagler Beach’s show and upending a decade-long arrangement expressly designed to let each city have its night under the blooms without feeling like the other is encroaching.
Lauren Johnston, the parks and recreations director, tried to tell them that simultaneous fireworks nights in the two cities would not be feasible, since the two cities share resources, deputies, fire departments and volunteers. It didn’t make a difference: Council members Victor Barbosa, Eddie Branquinho and Ed Danko favor a July 4 show, if with various caveats.
“First thing I don’t understand why Fourth of July is celebrated on the third of July. Second, we need to start looking into city parks that we have, maybe doing multiple sites instead of just one site if we’re growing so fast. As seen this year, because the fireworks were on on July 4, you see a lot of people doing fireworks at home, which is a lot bigger safety if it’s multiple areas than just one area. We can’t just keep on switching holidays to accommodate this stuff. If New York City could do it on Fourth of July and New Year’s, Palm Coast could start doing it too.”
“We couldn’t conduct simultaneous events,” Johnston said, referring to discussions with the Sheriff’s Office and Flagler Beach, regarding Palm Coast holding its fireworks show on July 4. It would be too much of a burden on public safety agencies. “We did look at that.” Palm Coast supplies some of its own supplies for traffic management in Flagler Beach.
Holding simultaneous fireworks would “split the traffic in half,” Barbosa said, insisting that “Fourth of July should be celebrated on Fourth of July.”
Branquinho would resolve the clash of the shows by having alternate showings: one year the show would be in Flagler Beach, the next it would be in Palm Coast, and so on. That will not sit well with some Flagler Beach merchants and others, based on discussions at Flagler Beach’s Commission-appointed July 4 committee, which met several times in the second half of 2021 to study whether and how to continue the city’s fireworks shows, among other Independence Day events. That committee briefly considered ceding the fireworks show to Palm Coast entirely. But the idea lost support at the committee, and does not figure in the committee’s final report, which is to be submitted to the City Commission Thursday.
“Doing it on the third is just a mistake,” Council member Ed Danko said, joining Branquinho and Barbosa for shifting the day to July 4.
Mayor David Alfin wanted to know why the July 3 event has been held on July 3 all those years. Johnston wasn’t certain. But the history is clear. Until 2010, Palm Coast had never had a fireworks show of its own. That year, Flagler Beach had decided to hold its fireworks show on July 3. Back then the now-defunct Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and Affiliates organized the event, with a $15,000 appropriation from the city and even a $1,500 contribution from palm Coast government. That was before the county’s Tourist Development Council picked up the tab, which is now $20,000 a show.
Since Flagler Beach was holding its festivities on July 3, a Saturday, that left “a big hole” in the weekend, as David Ayres. general manager of Flagler Broadcasting, said at the time. To plug up that hole, he conceived the idea of a fireworks show for Palm Coast at Central park on July 4. He approached the city to seek money for the fireworks. The city rebuffed him, but permitted the celebration at Town center, which Ayres paid for through the Flagler County Rotary. Yes, questions were raised about palm Coast encroaching on Flagler Beach’s tradition. Ayers addressed them at the time.
WNZF’s David Ayres Talks Of Palm Coast’s Fireworks in a 2010 Interview
“It is their iconic event. It’ll always be their iconic event,” he said in an interview with FlaglerLive in June 2010. “It’s not on the same day as theirs and Flagler Beach will always be successful with their fireworks thing. It’s a very unique thing… The fact that there was a glaring hole in a big long weekend with a lot of people expecting something, anticipating something to happen, I think it sort of fills the need for this year. And that’s what the focus was just this year. It’s the biggest tailgate party in Palm Coast history.” (See: “Flagler Beach’s Independence Day Fireworks No Longer a Solo Act.”)
Flagler Broadcasting broadcast live from Flagler Beach all day on July 3 that year, promoting Flagler Beach and Palm Coast’s events. He said it was common across the country for neighboring communities to do exactly what was being done: “In communities this size or a lot smaller there’s two fireworks displays coordinated between different groups all over the place,” he said, describing it as a “synergy” of a weekend between the two cities. “Raining on their parade would be doing another beach fireworks event on the same day.” Even then, he projected that the Palm Coast fireworks would become a tradition, as long as it was on an alternate day from Flagler Beach’s. He was right.
Danko said he wasn’t here when Palm Coast started doing its own fireworks show. “I think we need to focus on moving it to the 4th. It would be like doing New Year’s Eve celebration the day after or the day before.”
Alfin himself did not address the matter. Council member Nick Klufas did. “I’ve enjoyed the fireworks in Town Center over the years, but I think we’ve come to a point now where we have so much growth in Town Center that it’s becoming an issue,” Klufas said, making a comparison with the city’s Stalight Parade around Christmas: it, too, had become unwieldy in Town Center, and this year was turned into a stationary parade, with floats displayed in place for visitors to amble between.
But he was doubtful about alternating fireworks shows between the two cities. “I’m not too hung up on the date but I think the venue being at the airport provides a little bit better resilience not only because it’s a bigger facility, but the parking being on pavement is such an advantage. We used to be able to park in the field before the apartments, but that’s kind of out of the question now. But you had me at eight inch shells. I mean, bigger fireworks always better. The bigger fireworks, whatever you can get, I’m all about it.” One of the reasons the city administration wants to move the fireworks to the airport is fireworks caliber: in Town Center, Fireworks by Santore, the Flagler County-based company that supplies and choreographs the fireworks shows in Palm Coast and Flagler Beach, is limited to 5-inch shells. At the airport, it could fire off 8-inch shells.
Council members have previously taken part in a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence in Town Center. That same ceremony would be moved to the airport, on a larger stage. The city is pushing for moving the fireworks to the airport to allow for better parking options, better traffic flow in and out of parking areas, a larger venue and viewing area, and potentially a safer venue. Flagler Broadcasting hosts events at the airport during the year, and ends them with a fireworks display.
With the council’s consensus to move to the airport, Johnston said, “we would go talk to the county and see what that looks like for a solid partnership for this event, what they’re able to provide and then what we would be able to provide.”
But she had not expected the council’s unexpected resistance to July 3 fireworks, which now kicks off a different sort of dynamic with Flagler. Flagler Beach Commissioner Jane Mealy, who was on the city commission in 2010 (and still is), said at the time: “I guess another group has the right to do whatever they want to do, but July 4th has always been a Flagler Beach thing and in my mind should remain so.”