Palm Coast City Council members earlier this month proposed that Palm Coast and Flagler Beach alternate holding Independence Day fireworks on July 4 itself, with each city holding them on July 3 in alternate years. But four of the five Flagler Beach city commissioners, plus the mayor, are leery of the idea, whether because of tradition, or because holding them on July 3 in Flagler Beach would still overburden the city’s and the county’s resources on July 4, since people will flock to the barrier island regardless.
Three near-certainties are ahead: First, this July 4, Flagler Beach will be holding its fireworks on July 4, and for the first time in three years. The show was cancelled the previous two years because of Covid. Second, Flagler Beach will have to forego July 4 fireworks, and possibly all Independence Day fireworks, for the two subsequent years when the city’s iconic pier will be demolished and rebuilt, assuming the city’s funding is secure and sufficient and current plans continue apace.
Third, both the Palm Coast council and the Flagler Beach commission will defer to their respective managers and staff to analyze the options and come up with the best way to compromise, presumably taking the politics out of it. Palm Coast Interim Manager Denise Bevan and Flagler Beach manager William Whitson have a solid working relationship and have been in contact to devise options.
Three Palm Coast council members had initially and somewhat rashly said that they’d want to have their own July 4 fireworks regardless. They then quickly retreated from that demand once the Sheriff’s Office and both city administrations made clear that logistically, it would be very difficult and potentially unsafe to hold both shows simultaneously. There simply wouldn’t be enough law enforcement and traffic management resources to handle both events. Then came Palm Coast’s idea of alternate years.
But even that may pose big challenges. “Just from a practicality standpoint it really doesn’t work well, and the reason is, the beach is packed anyways,” Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Eric Cooley said of July 4. “So if you do fireworks in Flagler Beach on the 3rd, you’re basically making it a two-day event which still puts a huge strain on the limited resources we have in the county. So you’re not really gaining anything. Let’s say we do it on the 3rd, Flagler Beach is going to need a lot of assistance on the 4th just as coverage anyway. But then the limited resources we have are going to be in Palm Coast on the 4th.”
There’s a curious dynamic on the Flagler Beach commission: the longer a commissioner has been on the board, the less interested the commissioner is in alternate dates. And the two most recent arrivals on the commission–Ken Bryan and Deborah Phillips–are the most amenable to compromising with Palm Coast, though even then, only Phillips is willing to share the date.
“They need to kind of hold off right now, maybe a good time to think about this would be when we close down the pier for a year or two,” Bryan said. “It needs to be thought out a lot better than what they’re doing right now and not moving too quickly.” Bryan understands Palm Coast’s motivation, he said, but if the fireworks weren’t in Flagler Beach on July 4, the people in the city would end up holding their own fireworks shows (something that’s happening in Palm Coast as it is). He, too, has concerns about logistics and the strain on city resources. He could also see Palm Coast argue that, if it does host the fireworks for two years running on July 4, while Flagler Beach is rebuilding its pier, it could then say: we’ve been doing it. We should keep doing it.
“It’s a touchy subject, particularly with the people in Flagler Beach,” Bryan said. “They’re up in arms.”
Phillips, alone on the commission, would “absolutely” go for July 4 fireworks in alternate years, as long as thee two cities don;t hold their shows on the same day. She’d like the fireworks in the city this year, then yielded to Palm Coast while the pier is rebuilt. After that, “I’m fine with doing it every other year, I think it’s only fair.”
Commissioner Jane Mealy has been on the commission the longest (she was elected in 2006). She remembers how in 2010 Palm Coast first hosted its fireworks show, and what at the time was seen in Flagler Beach as an attempt to muscle over or dictate to Flagler Beach what the bigger city would do.
Asked what she thought about Palm Coast’s latest proposal, Mealy said: “Not very much. July 4 has been Flagler Beach’s baby since before ITT even thought about developing Palm Coast, and I just think we should have it in Flagler Beach. There will be a year or two when we don’t have a pier, and I would like for the city managers to work out whatever they think will work the best for that period, but after that I would like it to be back to July 4, because two [Palm Coast council members] got some brain storm they didn’t think thru, as far as law enforcement and garbage and whatever else goes on on July 3, or July 4. I don’t think we should all be in an upheaval for that. That’s my thought. What else will ultimately happen, I don’t know.”
Flagler Beach Commissioner Rick Belhumeur says switching back and forth between dats and the two cities would confuse visitors in addition to overly taxing services. He’d stick with July 4 in the city. “I would proposa that, yes, just so it’s not getting switched up every year and confusing people, especially the people that are out there helping keeping things under control to where it’s a safe event,” Belhumeur said. “But my biggest point is we’ll need law enforcement there on the 4th of July whether anybody has fireworks or not, so I don;t know, that’s be a question we’d have to ask the sheriff about.”
In the middle of last year the Flagler Beach City Commission considered ceding the event to Palm Coast, and appointed a committee to recommend whether to continue holding fireworks and if so, how. The committee submitted its final report earlier this month. The verdict: keep the fireworks going, but with more emphasis on safety, traffic management and hometown activities. Flagler Beach attorney Scott Spradley chaired the committee. The committee’s work was done by the time Palm Coast’s council started talking about its own July 4.
Spradley, appearing before the Flagler Beach commission, was immediately opposed to simultaneous shows, and, later, was left cold by Palm Coast’s presumption that it should define when Flagler Beach should hold its fireworks, even if in alternate years. The logistical issues are only part of the reason. Flagler Beach, he said, centers an entire day on its Independence Day celebration, starting with the parade, continuing with events in Veterans Park. The city could not turn a one-day event into a two-day event, if it were to hold the celebration on the 3rd. But he noted that the whole debate was likely premature, with the pier issue ahead. “Perhaps the conversation about alternate years for the fireworks display should come down the road,” he said.
Last week he met with Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin. “We had a very productive meeting. We covered a number of issues that are common to both Palm Coast and to Flagler Beach, including the conduct of the 4th of July celebration,” Spradley said. “I was pleased to see that there is a lot of common ground on going forward issues pertaining to July 4th event safety, staffing, and scheduling. We are also in agreement that the respective city managers should continue the discussion and attempt to craft a resolution of the pending 4th of July issues.”
The Palm Coast show was (and still is) sponsored by Flagler Broadcasting, whose David Ayres said then and said again this year that the intent was never to compete with Flagler Beach, but to complement its show. Hence the traditional July 3rd show in Palm Coast–which he would continue on that day, since the system isn’t broken. There’s nothing sacred about July 4, historically speaking: the Declaration of Independence was actually approved on July 2, and only printed and signed on the 4th. So shooting off fireworks on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th would be historically kosher.
Palm Coast, for its part, appears ready to move its fireworks–whether in July 3 or July 4–out of Town Center’s Central Park, where they have been held since 2010, and to the county airport. The city and county administrations appear to be on the same page on that. “We’ve met on several occasions and talked about moving it to the airport,” Airport Director Roy Sieger said at a county workshop on Monday. “It would be a joint event with the city of Palm Coast and Flagler County.” It would not be an all-day event, like the annual Freedom Fest. Gates would open at 4 p.m. Fireworks would be set off at 9 p.m. Then everyone leaves.
But County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who also chairs the county’s Tourist Development Council, wryly asked: “What will be the contribution of Palm Coast if we have it at the at the airport?” He said the county’s tourism office already pays for the fireworks. “It’s really the county’s fireworks at that point,” Sullivan said, adding a new wrinkle in the discussions over turf and bursts.