By Roger Drouin
The Siesta Key Independence Day fireworks display, organized by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, has been an island tradition for the past 25 years. The first event was spurred as a tribute to the men and women who served in Desert Storm.
But now event organizers say that the upcoming 2016 display could be the last, unless a fundraising effort results in enough sponsorships and partnerships. The uncertain future comes as organizers are shifting to a new approach to raising funds to pay for the roughly $45,000 cost to put on the fireworks display.
During previous years, an annual July 4 VIP party was the “main donation raiser” for the fireworks, said Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.
On March 23, however, the chamber’s fireworks committee opted to not hold the VIP party in 2016. Several factors lead to that decision. Last year, the cost to organize the VIP party increased by about $9,000, after county officials required extra precautions to protect the new, improved Siesta Key Public Beach. Those extra steps included additional barricades and breathable matting meant to ensure that the new grass and sprinkler system was not damaged, said Alana Tomasso, volunteer chair of the fireworks committee and general manager at Midnight Cove.
“It is beautiful now,” Tomasso said of the upgraded Siesta Key Public Beach park. “We certainly didn’t want to do any harm to the new beach.” But the extra required steps came with a cost.
Organizers also had to pay to rent chairs and tables, whereas in the past the event was held at pavilion picnic tables. In addition, VIP party was held in the past, muddying the logistics for trying to put on the VIP party. “It is difficult to put on; the logistics at the beach are tough now,” Smith said. “Before it was easier.”
“We needed to find a new model,” Smith told Siesta sponsorships.”
The consensus of organizers has been to make the fireworks “more of a community event, and not just a Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce event.”
The chamber has begun seeking partners from groups such as the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), which has already agreed to contribute $5,000, and organizations such as Visit Sarasota County. They are also seeking sponsorships from local businesses, families, and individuals who would like to see the July 4 tradition carried on. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can contact the Siesta Chamber of Commerce, Tomasso said.
Sponsors will receive a preferred viewing area and reserved parking (which will be limited to first come, first serve), Tomasso said. The chamber worked with the county to set aside the parking spaces that will be reserved for sponsors.
The Chamber’s annual Poker Tournament is coming up the first week of June, and money raised goes directly to the fireworks show, Tomasso said. The chamber will be coming out with information about registering for the event.
Beyond 2016, an unknown future
Smith and Tomaso told Siesta Sand that the fireworks committee has formulated a plan they hope will allow organizers to raise the funding needed to make the 2016 fireworks happen. But the fate of the fireworks beyond that is unknown.
“We feel comfortable we can put on this year’s event, but if it doesn’t look like we can raise the money for the following year, we are going to have to stop doing it,” Smith said.
“We believe we will be able to achieve the goal this year,” Tomasso added.
“The concern is for the upcoming years,” she said.
Tomasso however, remains hopeful that the fireworks won’t end in 2016. “Looking down the road, it will always be a challenge to raise the funds,” Tomasso said. “I’m optimistic because I am counting on the community to pull through.”
The fireworks have become an anticipated event. “It’s been going on for 25 years, and folks enjoy it,” Smith told Siesta Sand. “I have heard some folks coordinate their vacations so they are staying on the beach for the fireworks.”
At the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) board meeting March 15, there was some good news. The association’s board voted to set aside $5,000 in sponsorship.
Wendall Jacobsen, president of the SKVA board of directors, said losing the fireworks would be a big loss for the island, resulting in visitors who come to the island on July 4 to seek another venue to watch the fireworks. “That would mean a loss of several thousands of dollars in sales for the merchants on the Key,” Jacobsen said.
“SKVA has always donated financially for the Siesta Key fireworks, just at a smaller amount,” Jacobsen said. “We voted to increase the amount to $5000 this year because we feel it is a very important event for our community. We were very disappointed to hear of the financial burden caused by the Counties extremely high fees they charged the Chamber last year.
As of press time, the chamber also planned to request a partnership from the SKA at the group’s next meeting in April. The chamber has requested that Sarasota County officials look into the possibility of reducing some of the fees and costs to put on the event.