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East County Saturday, Jun. 12, 2021 1 year ago

Fireworks On the Lake at Benderson Park returns to normal

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SANCA said live music, food and the 4-mile race will return to its annual holiday event.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

When Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates was deciding on its budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was still casting a cloud of uncertainty.

SANCA President and CEO Tomás Herrera-Mishler said the nonprofit decided it was too risky to include Fireworks On the Lake in its budget. The annual Fourth of July event held at Nathan Benderson Park was in jeopardy.

“The biggest challenge has been determining whether or not the show will go on,” SANCA Chief Operating Officer Stephen Rodriguez said.

The show will indeed go on.

Sunset Automotive Group offered to sponsor the event, so with funding in place, SANCA announced on June 10 that Fireworks On the Lake would once again take place this year. SANCA is expecting as many as 25,000 visitors.

After a socially distanced event with subsequent attendance restrictions last year, the event will return to a more traditional format when it takes place July 3. The gates will open at 5 p.m. Music will start at 5:30 p.m., and the fireworks will commence shortly after 9 p.m.

“The most exciting thing was when I realized that we would be able to gather the community back together after being forced apart for so long, celebrating our nation’s birth together,” Herrera-Mishler said. “I hope that this fun, family-friendly event helps to rekindle our patriotism, and sense of unity with hope for the future.”

Lakewood Ranch's Keri Langlois, Bryce and Jenn Wilson and Michelle Smith watch their friend Kristen Labatsky complete the Fireworks 4-Miler On The Lake as they listened to music by the Greg Billings Band in 2019. File photo.

Rodriguez said this year’s event will be a hybrid of pre-pandemic editions and the 2020 version. Live music will return, as two bands will perform on Regatta Island. The Black Honkeys will play their hybrid style of Motown, funk, rock and other genres, while country artist the Derek Lersch Band will also perform. A DJ will also provide music for the occasion.

Another returning aspect of the event is the Kids Zone, which was introduced in 2019. Rodriguez said it will provide “a fun, safe and controlled environment for families to bring their children to play games and enjoy activities,” according to Rodriguez.

Food vendors will return, as will the 4-mile race around the park’s Cooper Creek Lake.

Some aspects of the 2020 event will return. The fireworks will be broadcast on ABC for the second straight year. The broadcast will take place on the Fourth of July, the day after Fireworks On the Lake. They were broadcast last year because of the attendance restrictions put in place via social distancing protocols, and it was successful enough that SANCA and ABC will do it again this year.

In addition, Rodriguez said the park received “overwhelming” positive responses to its drive-in event last year, so designated parking will remain. Tickets for parking will be $20 per car on Regatta Island. In the park’s south lot, tickets are $15 per car and $40 for recreational vehicles. Tickets will be available for purchase starting June 16 at nathanbendersonpark.org.

“I can’t wait to welcome our region to the park with our Kids Zone, food, live music and, best of all, a super fireworks display doubled by the reflection in our lake,” Herrera-Mishler said.

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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