It’s going to be four consecutive days of fireworks, in all corners of Franklin County, this Independence Day, as the United States of America celebrates its 246th birthday.
A newly introduced fireworks show in Eastpoint kicks off the weekend on Friday, July 1, and then Saturday the pyrotechnics will light up the skies over Carrabelle, followed by Apalachicola’s Independence Day Eve extravaganza on Sunday, and all wrapped up on Monday, July 4 with St. George Island’s shindig, culminating in a private fireworks show that night.
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Carrabelle Mayor Brenda La Paz, who sits on the board of the Tourist Development Council. “What other county in the surrounding area has a four-day holiday over the Fourth of July weekend, where people can see fireworks every weekend night?”
Apalachicola may well offer the most stunning display, with fireworks exploding in reflection over the Apalachicola River.
One city commissioner, though, is voicing her view that the city’s annual July 3 celebration may have veered away from the true meaning of the holiday.
Commissioners on May 3 approved a motion 4-1 to grant Apalachicola Main Street a special event permit to oversee the July 3 event. The commissioners conditioned their approval on making sure the event secured the appropriate governmental permission to allow sales of alcohol.
The one no vote came from Despina George, who did not voice specific opposition to alcohol sales in the city right-of-way, which has been allowed with other events at Riverfront Park.
Her opposition to the motion had to do with Main Street’s practice of selling reserved seating tables, ranging in price from $600 to $1,200, along the dock.
“I know through the years this started out as a small corner of the park,” she said. “It expands every year. Last year it covered the entire city dock, from Harry Arnold’s corner all the way to the fountain, and was cordoned off by a fence, separating the haves from the have-nots, which seems to be the antithesis of American independence.
“It might as well be called the King George III section,” George said.
While not included in the motion by Donna Duncan and seconded by Adriane Elliott, George asked City Manager Travis Wade to consider asking Main Street to appreciate sponsors in an alternative way, perhaps at a private property location on the river.
“Maybe they could do it with a party on another date, as other organizations do. Or have a very reduced VIP area that would not take up the length of the city waterfront,” George said. “I think every citizen of Apalachicola should have access to that waterfront, especially when celebrating American independence.”
George’s comments did not sit well with Mayor Brenda Ash. “This celebration has been going on for years,” she said. “We are creating a bigger issue than it needs to be. If we’re going to police the events that go on there, we have to police all the events. We can’t pick and choose who we’re going to police.”
Billed as the area’s biggest fireworks show, and known to attract an enormous crowd downtown to a celebration featuring music, food trucks and a veterans’ tribute, Main Street’s funding for the event comes from sale of the reserved seating.
“Enjoy the best fireworks show on the Forgotten Coast from your own private table on the docks!” is part of its outreach, which also notes that “complimentary beverages will be available from the private Sponsor Bar, and picnic baskets and coolers are welcome.
“Because the event is free to the public, this beloved summer tradition is only possible through the generous support of our sponsors,” reads its site on Facebook where reservations can be made.
Augusta West, Main Street’s executive director, was not present at the May 3 meeting, but has been invited to the commission’s June 7 meeting, where she likely will be asked to give a breakdown of the cost of the fireworks.
Rex Pennycuff, a spokesman for the Eastpoint Civic Association, said his group hoped to create a multi-faceted event for its newly introduced Eastpoint Freedom Festival, but decided to just debut the first official Eastpoint firework display, fired from the middle of the channel.
“We were planning on doing a festival but we’re hoping they will be in the middle of dredging,” he said. “We’ll have the pavilion but if they're staging for dredging, we don’t have property. We’re fine with food trucks but there’s no place to set up (a full event.)
“We’re going to grow into a festival, but right now we’re taking baby steps,” Pennycuff said.
The civic association is hoping to raise $20,000 for a full-scale show through sponsorships.
Those “Skyrockets” who give $1,000 or more get their name and logo on the website and all advertising, their name listed on a year-round sponsor board, four t-shirts for the event, and one year of membership in the Eastpoint Civic Association. The Roman Candle category is for donations of $500 and above, the Firecracker for $250, and the Sparkler for $100, with the benefits scaled back in each respective category.
In Carrabelle, funding for the fireworks comes entirely from the city treasury.
Last year the city spent $7,500 on a fireworks display and this year they budgeted $11,250 for the July 2 event.
The company doing the pyrotechnics offered a $15,000 price tag, and city officials stuck firm, and pared down the show just enough to fit the city budget.
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