This Fourth of July, it seems likely that the boom will remain on the beach as local businesses have banded together to raise money for fireworks. Immediately upon hearing from Town Council that the show may be cancelled due to no contributions to help offset the estimated $50,000 cost, Sea Gypsy owner Jackie Liszak, met with Silver Sands’ owner Andrea Carriere and John Lallo from Pete’s Time Out and they already have pledges totaling over $10,000, with a goal of $25,000 and a deadline of May 1st.
“We decided we wanted to create a permanent group that will help fund both the New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July fireworks, so the Town knows the money will be there,” Liszak said this week.
For years, the Semmer family raised funds for both fireworks events, and the Town has struggled with funding these popular events since Bill Semmer announced his retirement from the yearlong effort in February of 2012. Previous councils have agreed to pay for half of the total cost – estimated to be about $50,000 per event though that number may change as staff looks into various options – so long as the business community comes up with the other half. At the last Council meeting, newly elected member Tracey Gore – Semmer’s niece – publicly pledged her support on behalf of her family, and Jackie said she welcomes any information that the Semmer’s are willing to provide.
“We now have a dedicated Facebook page and GoFundMe account called FMB Fireworks Fund, and anyone wishing to donate can write checks to that name,” Liszak said. “We have a bank account and a committee consisting of myself, Andrea and John. The Chamber has also said they’d help us.”
Indeed, as we were meeting with Jackie, the Chamber sent out an email to all its members:
“The Fort Myers Beach Town Council has requested the assistance of the business community in paying for the expenses related to the town’s Fourth of July celebration,” it read. “To ensure that the celebration will go on as planned, we need to raise $25,000 within the next few weeks. This sum will be matched by the town, and will go to pay for not only fireworks, but also other expenses related to putting on the event.”
Jackie says she is impressed but not too surprised with the amount of support she’s gotten so far.
“This is a big shot in the arm for businesses at a time of year when we really need it,” she said. “People come for the parade in the morning, then stay all day. They typically get a hotel room, and spend lots of money at local bars and restaurants. It’s a really important weekend for us and helps businesses get through the summer.”
Liszak said that – for instance – her group, ‘The Krewe of Sloth – consists of about 90 members, many of whom fly in and stay on the island over the Fourth of July weekend.
“These people are all friends and family, and we go to Mardi Gras every year and a bunch of other places,” she said. “When they come here, they spend money – I think our financial contribution to the restaurants, bars, taxis, grocery stores, hotels is about $20,000.”
Liszak pointed out that the event will always be run by the Town, and it is the Town that will need to coordinate all the necessary permitting.
“We can’t own the event because it belongs to the Town of Fort Myers Beach,” she said. “But we can help, and the Chamber has agreed to partner – they’ve committed to providing volunteers to help with the garbage and to pick up the beach the next day.”
One thing Jackie says she would like to revisit, however, is the idea of having beads during the parade.
“During Shrimp Festival, we had a little girl crying because there were no beads,” she said. “If we need to get a crew to go around and put mesh nets over the drain grates, let’s do it. New Orleans has beads, and they are lower in sea level than we are. Or just have people walking and handing out beads instead of throwing them.”
Anyone interested in contributing to the fireworks fund may send a check payable to FMB Fireworks Fund to: FMB Chamber of Commerce, 1661 Estero Blvd. Suite 8, Fort Myers Beach, FL 33931. People can also visit the Facebook page at FMB Fireworks Fund and the GoFundMe account under the same name. For more information, email Jackie at email@example.com.
Keri Hendry Weeg