The July 4 committee the Flagler Beach City Commission appointed last August to figure out whether there is a future for the Independence Day fireworks that light up much of the city’s historical identity is close to finishing its work, with a final report now in preparation.
The recommendations to the commission, due in January, will be no mystery. The committee will recommend that the fireworks go on, though the county’s Tourist Development Council is committing to only one more year for now. And the location of the fireworks show may become an issue when the pier disappears for a few years, after 2022.
Based on the committee’s discussions this morning–the committee met for the sixth time today, at City Hall, likely the only local government committee that put in some work on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend–there will be organized bus or shuttle transportation from the mainland to the island, as in previous years. But this time riders will have to pay for the service, as Flagler Beach residents are categorically opposed to subsidizing the cost of jamming up the island.
There will also be 730 additional parking spots on the mainland–at Boston Whaler, First Baptist Church and Badcock Furniture. There will be First Friday-like family entertainment in Veterans Park, organized by Vern Shank, the organizer of First Friday. There will be stepped up patrols against underage drinking. There will be more concerted messaging from the city on the where and how of the day’s events, though to date the where of the messaging itself remains unclear.
And there will be stepped up security, including the installation of water-filled orange plastic Jersey barriers to help prevent the sort of mass killing by vehicle as in Wisconsin and many other locations over recent years.
“It’s not just about fireworks. It’s about a full day,” Scott Spradley told the Flagler Beach City Commission last week when he was presenting an interim report of the committee the commission appointed to study the feasibility of continuing July 4 fireworks and other Independence Day activities in the city.
The statement by Spradley, a local attorney who chairs the six-member committee, reflected the way the committee had taken what had been a central question by commissioners–whether to even have fireworks anymore–and answered it by putting the fireworks in a daylong context from which it cannot really be divorced.
So the question is no longer whether to have fireworks–a question posed most daringly by Eric Cooley, the commission chairman, who worried that the event was outgrowing the city’s ability to manage it–but how to have them, while paring down the size of other events during the day: the endless parade, the activities in Veterans Park, the rivers of booze on the beach and the minors drinking up.
“We really developed the sense of being problem solvers,” Spradley said.
“When the committee first met, I could sense that there were some who were leaning against continuation fireworks,” Spradley said. “There were some who were leaning in favor of fireworks. It’s just been a subtle evolution of what we’ve been doing, and that is attacking the problems. What is it that makes the fireworks unattractive to some?” Parking, traffic, safety, he said. “So the focus on the committee has turned, I think, from fireworks to no fireworks, to solving the problem, a list of problems which has made fireworks an issue for some.”
The commission commended Spradley’s committee for its “thoughtful approach” (in Commissioner Jane Mealy’s words).
“It is a great approach,” Cooley said. “I don’t think for anybody it’s been been really about the fireworks, it’s about what comes with it, the all-day drunkfest, the fights, all of the things that the fireworks and the entire day cumulative[ly] draws in. You isolate the problems, you come up with solutions, you’ve solved them. The idea of doing a one-year recommendation: here’s that the City of Flagler Beach should consider doing in order to get through this potential next event is a good way of looking at it, because we’re looking at an entirely possible different geographic next year.”
Cooley was referring to the impending if temporary demise of the pier, which will be rebuilt as a concrete pier in a project that may take three years, if not more. Add to that the uncertainty that may surround beach-renourishment efforts, likely set to begin next year, and the construction of a new hotel near Veterans Park starting in the second or third quarter of 2022, according to the hotel’s developer–not to mention the menace of an ever-rising ocean–and the geography of July 4 begins to look far less certain than the day’s immovability on the calendar. It is in sum a story of shifting sands.
Shank will be addressing the committee likely at its next meeting on Dec. 7. Rick Bowen, a committee member, wanted a representative of the Flagler Beach Rotary also to address the committee: Bowen wants to see the parade, which the Rotary organizes, scaled back. The Christmas parade next month, for example, will be limited to 50 entrants, not counting public safety. The same limit will apply to the July 4 parade. But beyond that, the committee has no control.
“I personally think this committee should have input into their parade,” Bowen said. “We’re not going to put any guidelines or restrictions around it?” He was referring not just to size but to participants. He’d previously spoken against allowing political candidates to fill the parade, as they traditionally have in election years. “If we’re trying to change the look and feel, and make it more hometown, do we want to have any input into what’s in the parade? Who’s in the parade? Do we want to focus primarily on business advertising? Do we want to focus primarily on children’s groups? Or are we just going to say no, we don’t care, do whatever you want?”
Suzie Johnston, the mayor and a non-voting member of the committee, said that’s beyond the scope of this particular committee. “We’re just losing our scope at that point, where this would be us trying to take control over the whole entire event for the city, and that’s not what we’re here for. We’re just giving a recommendation to the Commission on how to have Fourth of July safe within the community.”
Matt Doughney, the police chief, said he’s met with the Rotary four or five times so far for the coming parade. He described its organizers as “very generous, huge hearts, they’re very organized.” The Rotary, he said, “want to put their best foot forward because it’s their event.” What he’s concerned about as a police chief is the safety around the parade: if a child is run over, the state Department of Transportation will never permit another parade, he said. That’s why the crackdown on parade participants who throw candy from their floats.
“If you’re caught throwing candy, you’ll be removed from the parade and you won’t be invited back,” Doughney said. “Those are the things I think we should work with as a city to make the parade safe, whether it’s protecting the boundaries north and south with barricades so we don’t have a Wisconsin-type incident, making sure that we have adequate police staffing, working in conjunction with the Rotary.”