When it comes to Independence Day celebrations in Flagler County, it’s no longer exclusively the Flagler Beach fireworks, and it won’t be the Palm Coast fireworks, though both cities will host a fireworks display—Palm Coast on July 3, Flagler Beach on the 4th. Think of the two displays as fiery threads coloring the same star-spangled weekend. That, anyway, is how the Flagler County Tourist Development Council wants to market the weekend, whose fireworks bill it’s picking up for both cities, at a cost of $30,000.
The council unanimously approved spending that money Wednesday out of its marketing fund (which has been growing by several hundred thousand dollars this year, in part due to an increase in the bed tax to 4 percent, and in part due to an increase in visitors to the area.) The County Commission is expected to ratify the allocation.
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The TDC used to pay for Flagler Beach’s fireworks several years ago. That expense switched to the county’s general fund for the last couple of years. Last year, WNZF and Beach 92 FM, the local radio stations, asked Palm Coast to sponsor a fireworks display in the city. The Palm Coast City Council was reluctant on two counts: it didn’t want to spend the money. And it didn’t want to step on Flagler Beach’s turf. The Flagler County Rotary instead raised the $13,000 or so necessary for the fireworks, and the radio stations cheer-led what they described as a tailgate party in Town Center, where there was no admission fee, no restrictions on coolers or grills or food, and plenty of party-like atmosphere. No one’s turf was stepped on, either: Flagler Beach had held its fireworks display on the 3rd. The display on Palm Coast was on the 4th. It was an extended Independence Day weekend.
David Ayers, the radio stations’ vice president and general manager, knew he’d do it again this year, though the Rotary this time, as well as Palm Coast, were reluctant to front the money. The DC became the next option.
“We’re going to be creating a marketing strategy for this event in assisting the city of Flagler Beach and the city of Palm Coast,” Milissa Holland, the county commissioner who also chairs the TDC, said today. “It’s been a successful event for them anyway, regardless, but we’re trying to make it more about it being an annual event where our visitors get to really see what’s great about our community.”
On Monday, Holland is meeting with Ayers, John Walsh—the Palm Coast Observer publisher, whose paper is also sponsoring the event—Flagler Beach City Manager Bruce Campbell and Peggy Heiser, the chamber of commerce’s tourism director, to devise that marketing strategy. It won’t just be advertising. Holland is looking for a unifying theme joining the two cities and the two dates (July 3rd and 4th again, though this time Flagler Beach gets to fire off on the 4th) under the same spirit of Americana on the country’s 235th anniversary.
At the Town Center fireworks, the Rotary will sell food for a yet-to-be determined cause. The TDC’s involvement, however, is to increase visits to the county. Local hotels and motels had a 58 percent occupancy rate around last year’s July 4 weekend. “We certainly have room to increase that,” Heiser said.
The council was supportive of the initiative on Wednesday, but balked somewhat at Holland’s suggestion to “make this an annual recurring expenditure.”
Council members Linda Mitchell and Bob DeVore were supportive, but as an experiment, not a given. Mitchell is looking for occupancy reports following the events, “because that determines whether we’re shooting it up for tourism or we’re shooting it up in the air for the local population.”
“I am supportive of this and will move to approve, but I think it should be on a trial basis,” DeVore said. “The chamber needs to monitor it and be sure it puts heads in the beds—additional beds or at least status quo.”
Mitchell: Also, seeing that occupancy increases. “You’re talking about marketing those events, so we need to see whether in fact, by offering those fireworks twice, whether it actually ups our occupancy.”
Even though none of the $30,000 is going to be spent on advertising (it’s all going tp pay for the fireworks), the marketing strategy entails appealing to racing fans who’ll be going to Daytona Beach for a July 1 race and a July 2 race, both starting at 7:30 p.m. “This is actually an optimum opportunity to be able to offer perhaps a star-spangled extravaganza weekend attached to the race,” Heiser said. The question is whether racing fans will stay through July 4 to attend fireworks displays in another county.
Some local businesses are seizing on the opportunity to appeal to those fans. “After I read this in the agenda, for my business,” Jeff Conner, a council member and a representative of Bulow RV Resort, said, “I actually convinced my bosses to lower rates, to make it a family weekend instead of a race weekend, and I’m actually incorporating this into an email blast I’m doing, so I’m certainly hoping that I’m advertising it correctly that this is going to be a huge event.”
Holland is hoping that her marketing strategy will appeal to other local hoteliers and tourism-related businesses for the same reason.