Something strange is going on in Flagler Beach and its on-again, off-the-wall again July 4 fireworks show.
The latest fireworks producer, Ryan Allen, today sent a $60,000 invoice to City Manager William Whitson for the July 4 fireworks show, a 150 percent increase in three days. The sudden jump exceeds even the current pace of inflation.
The $60,000 “estimate” that requires a 50 percent deposit was not the agreed price when the Flagler Beach City Commission at a special meeting Monday gave Whitson the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Allen. The agreed price was the one Ryan had quoted in his proposal at the time: $24,000, which Whitson boasted was $1,000 lower than budgeted. The city has a $25,000 grant from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council to underwrite the fireworks show.
But the invoice was not drafted by Allen’s company, “North Florida Pyrotechnics,” itself a fictional name operating under a different company name, Island Outdoor Management, a lawn care company that Allen runs out of Green Cove Springs. Nor was it drafted by Island Outdoor. Rather, it is under the heading of “Explosive Touch Enterprises and North Florida Pyrotechnics,” and is dubbed as a “joint collaborative fireworks proposal to save the City of Flagler Beach”‘s July 4 fireworks.
It isn’t clear why Allen felt compelled to draft another company for a show he said his own would pull off with three or four “helpers” and a semi.
But that, too, was not what Whitson had presented, what the city commission had discussed, or what it had agreed to, while an invoice charging 150 percent more than the original quoted cost seems to be an odd way to go about saving the city’s fireworks. So, it appears, is adding another company to the operation, a company neither the city administration nor the city commission have vetted, even as the vetting of Allen’s own company was gapingly incomplete at Monday’s meeting.
“Apparently the guy we were talking to partnered up with another guy who is doing the Ormond Beach show this year, but he’s doing it on July 3, so he could help out with July 4 here,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said. “However if we wanted the same show we’d gotten from Santore, it would cost $60,000. No, I’m not spending $60,000.”
Mealy said Allen “thought he could do the show he wanted and then when he went to look at buying the fireworks, he found they were very much more expensive and hard to get.” So he partnered with his friend from South Florida. Almost all fireworks originate from China, from where exports are significantly hampered by covid lockdowns, causing prices to soar.
“I guess the discussion is going to be: do we want a lesser show, or do we want a show at all. I imagine that’s what the discussion will be,” Mealy said.
The nine-page “proposal” and invoice is almost certain to raise still further questions by city commissioners and others who have been as if whiplashed by the July 4 fireworks issue and the city administration’s handling of the matter. Not that the city was in a hurry to disclose the documents ahead of time.
“This will be discussed tonight. I will try and round up some additional details as well,” Whitson told commissioners and department heads in a midday email. The document was added to the publicly accessible agenda material for tonight’s meeting around 3 p.m. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
When the agenda was amended to include the fireworks item, it listed it under staff reports, at the tail end of the meeting–meetings that can last ours, so by then the commission tends to have small audiences, if any–as follows: “Approve a contract between Island Outdoor Management, Inc., a Florida corporation, d/ b/ a North Florida Pyrotechnics to deliver, to the City an aerial fireworks display on July 4, 2022 lasting at least twenty (20) minutes in length, for an amount not to exceed 25,000.”
A brief recap may be necessary: Last year the commission appointed a volunteer committee to study the feasibility of July 4 fireworks and Independence Day events in the city. The committee submitted its final report in January and endorsed continuing with fireworks, as long as the operation was safe and policing assured. The city had not held fireworks or July 4 activities for two years due to Covid. But even though the commission had endorsed the committee’s conclusion in January and green-lighted fireworks’ resumption, the city administration waited until late April to contact Fireworks by Santore, its long-time fireworks producer, to book the 20-minute show. By then Santore was already booked on that day. It could set them off on July 2. The commission wanted July 4, even at the risk of having no fireworks at all.
Whitson had an alternative, a small company called Imperial Fireworks. But that quickly fell through. Whitson had Police Chief Matt Doughney and Fire Chief Bobby Pace explore new options, two of which they presented to the city manager, recommending one of the two: Allen’s fledgling operation.
“Now that I know more of Flagler Beaches past shows [sic.] and current needs I can permit, produce and insure a SPECTACULAR twenty-minute Fireworks Display for $24,000,” he wrote Whitson last week. He repeated the pledge before the city commission at last Monday’s special meeting.
As it turned out, he had himself not done enough research about Flagler Beach’s shows. “Attached is an updated proposal based upon our research on past shows including 2019 which Santore produced for Flagler Beach,” he wrote Whitson this morning. “The first proposal I saw was very old and was missing quite a bit of data. As earlier discussed this is a collaboration between Explosive Touch Enterprises and North Florida Pyrotechnics sharing our resources and man power to save The Forth of July Fireworks for Flagler Beach.”
Allen has not responded to an email asking to verify a fact, nor to an email, a text or a call asking him about the latest proposal. Nor has the owner of the company he now appears to be partnering with, if without the commission’s approval as yet.
Explosive Touch Enterprise is a company operating out of a residential home in Vero Beach. It is registered to Elwood J. Weppel IV of Vero Beach who, along with other family members, is the registered agent for Angry Unicorn International, a company name listed on the proposal to Flagler Beach. It was established in 2018, according to Division of Corporation records, but has been inactive since, as has been Angry Unicorn Imports. Explosive Touch Enterprises was also the named agent for a company called Angry Unicorn Displays that was dissolved in 2020.
Yet the brochure included with the invoice states that “Angry Unicorn Displays was established in 2018 and is a sister company of Explosive Touch Enterprises. It is branded to coincide with ETE’s Import Company Angry Unicorn Imports and evolved from the experience of a decade old fireworks company that originated in the Theme Park Entertainment Capital of the World, Orlando, FL.” The brochure cites only Weppel by name as its team, displaying the picture of a man seen from the back only, and adds that the company has a “vast pool of pyrotechnicians that work with us on a regular basis.” (Fireworks companies typically hire part-time workers since the work is seasonal.) “Most of them have other fulltime jobs for some of the biggest names in the
Entertainment Industry and shoot their shows regularly.”
The proposal would result in 2,408 firework shells in a 20-minute show. The invoice is a one-line item for $60,000.
Weppel also did not respond to a call or an email before this article initially publish.
While Allen hasn’t responded to direct contacts, he has since bristled from questions raised about his experience and his ability to pull off the show as described in his initial proposal–but on social media.
Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney who chaired the fireworks committee, listed his questions about Allen in a letter to the city clerk that he asked to be disseminated among commissioners and the city manager–questions that, in effect, should have been asked by the administration about Allen’s company’s insurance status, its actual, legal name, its history and events where it produced shows. Nowhere in the city’s documentation of North Florida Pyrotechnics or Island Outdoor Management, for example, were any references, let alone a list of events and dates when the company set off fireworks. ” I question the applicant’s history or track record in the fireworks performance business, if it has one; its corporate structure is vague; and the matter of insurance
is critically important, but is omitted form the paperwork I have seen, to date,” Spradley wrote city officials.
“So I try to help and now I am the Villain?” Allen wrote on Facebook, in a thread below last Monday’s FlaglerLive article on the special meeting. “I am trying to help! If not for me then who would handle this show?” He then made false claims about Spradley and FlaglerLive. “I love how you failed to mention ‘The Concerned Citizen’ is actually an attorney you work closely with and even sat beside at yesterday’s meeting.” In fact, the article never mentioned any “concerned citizen” and referred to Spradley by name (including his role both as an attorney and the city’s chairman of the former committee), since Spradley addressed the commission that day, as Allen had.
Commissioner Eric Cooley corrected Allen to that extent in the same thread, while another commenter was surprised by Allen’s reaction: “You demonstrate zero maturity. Intelligent business owners don’t resort to commenting on media websites to insult governing bodies and citizens of a municipality with whom they want to partner.”