Last Updated: 10:54 a.m.
Don’t expect the kind of fireworks show you’ve been used to this July 4 in Flagler Beach now that “the residents have been betrayed,” in the words of the chairman of the city’s former July 4 committee.
Ryan Allen, the Green Cove Springs-based provider who only Monday assured the Flagler Beach City Commission that he wanted to be “your fireworks guy from now on,” who pledged he would “make this right” and fire off “a SPECTACULAR twenty-minute Fireworks display for $24,000,” won’t be able to produce that “spectacular” a show after all–not at that price. He’d need $60,000 for what he’d initially offered, and he’d have to pair up with another company to do it. He’d not done his homework before submitting his bid to the city, and apparently didn;t know that fireworks prices had increased.
“He was concerned about comments about having the same level or type of display that Flagler Beach is used to and Santore company had put on,” City Manager William Whitson said. “So he went back and did some additional research and found out that prices have increased on the shells and the things that to get the same effect.”
That, of course, is not how Ryan had portrayed it to Whitson or the commission on Monday: “It’ll be me shooting the firing the show and I have three helpers that will be helping me with it. So nowhere near the size of what Santore brothers are, they are a nationwide company. I stumbled on the same problems that they’re having as well the product issues and the help, but I’m much smaller so I feel it much less.”
Clearly feeling it more now, Allen could still do a show for $24,000, Whitson said on Thursday. The difference: his fireworks won’t fire up as high into the sky. He partnered with another company scheduled to do the fireworks in Ormond Beach on July 3. Together, they’d have the capacity to do a “higher level show,” but for up to $60,000, Whitson said.
Late Thursday night, the Flagler Beach City Commission voted 5-0 to approve a contract with Allen’s island Outdoor Management–a lawncare company under which Allen runs a fireworks company–for the $24,000, low-level version. On Monday, Allen had spoken of firing off “5,000 shots,” as Whitson described it. Now it’s not clear how many he will fire, what caliber shells he will fire, and with whom he will fire them.
Allen was not at the meeting to answer questions (nor has he responded to an email, a text and a phone call requesting comment). Whitson said he had to be at the port of Jacksonville Thursday to claim a shipment of fireworks. (Whitson spoke at close to 10 p.m., by which time Allen might have had time to make it to the meeting).
Not to worry: Palm Coast is putting on its usual July 3 fireworks show, produced by Fireworks By Santore, this year recast as “Fireworks Over the Runways,” with up to 8-inch shells, along with live music, fly-bys, ceremonies and possibly sky-divers organized in partnership with Flagler Broadcasting and the Flagler County airport. The fireworks will be provided for $25,000, a grant from the Tourist Development Council–the caliber show Flagler Beach lost out on when it failed to call Santore in time to book this year’s show.
There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm in the Flagler Beach Commission’s vote for its scaled-back show.
“I feel like there was a bait and switch that happened,” Commissioner Eric Cooley said. “We went from a guy who said, and he’s even quoted in the press saying, I will give Flagler Beach a hell of a firework show, and it’s all capitalized, and then came in $1,000 under budget, said he could compete with Santore, and then all of a sudden he said: wait a second, $60,000. And overnight it changed from $24,000 to $60,000. The same person. And so we either have somebody who has no idea how to quote stuff or apparently doesn’t know what fireworks cost, who does fireworks.” Cooley warned that the city was putting itself at risk of “a problem” with Ryan.
The commission’s vote followed on the heels of a series of embarrassing missteps, poor vetting on the city’s part, and documentation provided only hours before commission meetings.
That includes Thursday night’s unvetted proposal by the city manager–as one of the options he presented–that Ryan could team up with “a partner that is capable of staffing it and getting all the equipment there and doing it” for the $60,000 option. Whitson was referring to the company Ryan had proposed teaming up with, a company owned by Elwood J. Weppel IV of Vero Beach and that goes by the name of Angry Unicorns, according to the documents Ryan submitted to the city. There was no mention of Weppel’s history even as Whitson discussed the option of his operation being included in Flagler Beach’s display.
Angry unicorn, according to the Urban Dictionary, refers to a violent sexual act. Weppel had several companies bearing that name, according to the Division of Corporations, none active anymore. Weppel also owned a company called Creative Pyrotechnics. It ceased operations under that name in 2018, according to the division’s records. The News-Journal in 2019 reported that the company failed to put on a July 4 show for DeBary, owed the city $10,000, had filed for bankruptcy and owed “over $599,000 to various entities.” But the bankruptcy filing was soon dismissed. The company had also failed to put on a show in Apopka and St. Petersburg, among other locations.
Whitson told commissioners that they could still leave open the possibility of going with the bigger option and seeking sponsorships to add money to the show “to cover that gap between $25,000 and $60,000.”
“He can acquire the fireworks. He’s got a partner that is capable of staffing it and getting all the equipment there and doing it,” Whitson said, referring to Allen and Weppel’s operation. Most commissioners weren’t interested.
They heard an earful from Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney who had chaired the commission-appointed July 4 committee that completed its work in January.
“I would be remiss if I did not say this: we shouldn’t be here right now on this. We blew it,” Spradley told commissioners. “We in January, the committee that this commission authorized after we met for four months, in January, we made our report in which we concluded based on our work, based on our meetings, based with the input from the residents, that we should have fireworks on Fourth of July if they could be safely conducted. That was unequivocal. And the commission immediately approved that, 5-0. That was January 22. And the idea that no one picked up the phone to call Santore until the middle of April to line them up? I mean, the residents have been betrayed. I’ve gotten calls from the committee members asking me: Scott did we waste all of our time? And here we are.”
He called the options Whitson presented “crazy,” based on Allen’s comportment since he made his proposal to the city. “First option, $25,000 for the gentleman who was here three days ago,” he said of Ryan, “My personal perspective was not impressed and not only that, but he is the one who after he made his presentation and made his promises that he would deliver the world, then he decides he’s not up to it. He can’t do it. And now we still want to talk to him? He’s the one who said he can’t do it. That’s option one. Option two: the $60,000 deal. Where’s that guy? He’s not here. We’re actually talking about possibly approving a contract where this other guy’s going to be actually doing it, and he’s not here? And then of course, there’s the budgetary issue for that, $60,000. Third option: no fireworks. That might be the best option.”
Spradley proposed a fourth option: getting a new vendor.
Mayor Suzie Johnston wanted to ensure that the city was staffed enough to handle the show, whatever it would be. Police Chief Matt Doughney said staff is in place, with partnerships from several other agencies. “The staffing requests have gone out,” he said, but he won’t know whether he will have 39 uniformed personnel in place, as was the case the last time the city held full-blown festivities. If he doesn’t have the personnel by then, he said he would recommend against the event.
“William, I told you my opinion, I am for: we need to learn as this commission–because it’s becoming a trend–stick to budget,” Johnston said. “We were budgeted for $25,000 That was a gift from the TDC,” the county’s tourist Development Council. “That is not guaranteed going forward. At some point we’re going to have to realize we have to live within our means we’re a city of 5000 people. Yes, we’re putting on a show for a county. But we cannot be a city of now asking for another GoFundMe,” which she said would be for “the most frivolous” reason.
The fundraising approach is not without precedent. It was, in fact, standard when the now-defunct Chamber of Commerce used to pay for the fireworks. “The Flagler Beach Chamber of Commerce would have a sign in Veterans Park every year with your thermometer of where they would go out and raise money to fund our fireworks, every year, that’s how it happened,” Penny Overstreet, the city clerk, reminded the commission.
Cooley wanted to have a seven-day window before awarding Allen the $12,000 deposit, so the city could ensure that he produces all his paperwork and proof that he can actually fire the show. “It seems a little risky, we don’t know who he is,” Cooley said. But Bryan said he spoke with the president of the Nocatee homeowners association, where Allen has been producing shows for a few years. “He had nothing but praise for the gentleman,” Bryan said. “He’s a man of his word.”
Still, the commission approved the seven-day window and went along with Whitson’s summation. “We are out of time,” the city manager said. “My opinion is that this gentleman can do the show. He was reacting to your comments about having something along the lines of the original Santore, went back and looked at video and found out that the higher level shells have gone up, way up in price. And so I think if you want fireworks, let’s roll the dice and see what he can do for the price that’s in the contract.” The administration has already searched for other vendors, he said. It could do it again, but “right now my feeling is that we a have bird in the hand and we ought to proceed with a base contract.”
“It’s just really disappointing, because Santore can do Santore-level for $25,000. That’s the only disappointing part,” Cooley said. As Whitson noted, Santore had assured the city that he could do so–on July 2, being booked for July 4.