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Help needed to keep annual July Fourth bayfront fireworks display popping

Suncoast Charities for Children seeks community support to continue the annual bayfront Fourth of July Fireworks display. It’s time to rocket up the fundraising.

Fireworks light up Sarasota Bay at Suncoast Charities for Children’s 2023 Fourth of July celebration.
Fireworks light up Sarasota Bay at Suncoast Charities for Children’s 2023 Fourth of July celebration.
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Fireworks are essential to the Fourth of July. It’s a tradition that was started nearly 250 years ago at the first celebration of Independence Day in 1777 in Philadelphia. They represent what we sing about in our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s when all Americans gather together to marvel at the glittering spectacle of rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air that culminate a day of American pride where we don our best red, white and blue regalia, march in parades and eat hamburgers and hot dogs at barbecues. Come on, even Katy Perry wrote a song about them. 

Rising costs and an evolution of events may now put Sarasota’s bayfront fireworks display that attracts 15,000 spectators to downtown Sarasota every year in jeopardy. 

For the past 14 years, Suncoast Charities for Children has organized the annual Fourth of July fireworks display in partnership with Marina Jack. The light show is staged and launched from the southernmost end of Bayfront Park. It starts after the sun sets around 9 p.m. and lasts for nearly 20 minutes. 

Suncoast Charities for Children’s mission is providing support to children, teens and adults with special needs and their families. The organization raises funds for other nonprofits such as Children First and the Florida Center for Early Childhood through various events and festivals such as the Thunder by the Bay Music and Motorcycle Festival and the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights (see box).

Two years ago, Suncoast Charities for Children stepped away from organizing the Sarasota Grand Prix P1 powerboat races. While the fireworks display was always its own independent event, when it came to marketing, the fireworks were lumped into the series of events surrounding the races, said Lucy Nicandri, Suncoast Charities’ executive director. 

Without the marketing visibility of the races, finding sponsors for the annual fireworks display has proved challenging. 

“Thunder by the Bay is three days that includes print and TV advertising spots,” said Nicandri. “There’s not a lot of brand awareness with the fireworks other than banner and website promotion and the opportunity to be there for the VIP viewing experience.” This year, Thunder by the Bay netted Suncoast Charities $204,000, and that was even with a day-and-a-half rained out. 

While Thunder by the Bay has proved to be lucrative for the Suncoast Charities, the annual Fourth of July fireworks display has been the opposite. In 2023, total expenses to produce the event came to $37,367. The largest expense is the pyrotechnics themselves. “Fireworks cost $1,500 a minute now,” said Nicandri. 

In a press release, Marina Jack’s General Manager Lana Jackson said prior to the 2023 event, only $14,000 in sponsorships were secured, which would have resulted in a loss to the charity. Thankfully, an anonymous donor came in at the last minute to cover the expenses and provided the charity with a $7,000 net gain. 

When you look at the fireworks from a business perspective, unless the community provides the financial support, organizing the time-intensive event with only two staff members, the return on investment is not worth it. “You can only slice it and dice it so many ways,” said Nicandri. 

This year, costs are estimated to go up to $39,875, which doesn’t include Suncoast Charities’ two largest partners that donate in-kind services — Marina Jack and the city of Sarasota. For the fireworks display in 2023, the city donated $41,047 of in-kind personnel cost for police and public works services. 

According to the city of Sarasota’s communications general manager, Jan Thornburg, the breakdown of those costs include $1,200 for the special events team working the event, $5,700 for public works to provide things like setting up security fencing and picking up recycling and solid waste, with the bulk of the expense for the Sarasota Police Department coming in at just over $34,000. 

“We’re on the ground, in the air and on the water making sure any issues are addressed as they come up,” says Cynthia McLaughlin, public information officer with the Sarasota Police Department. 

Thornburg adds that the Fourth of July Fireworks display is one of more than a dozen events that the city of Sarasota co-sponsors each year like the recent Memorial Day parade and the upcoming Juneteenth Celebration. “The city really values these events that they’re family friendly, bring residents together in a celebratory manner and enhance the sense of community and quality of life,” she says. “That is why the City Commission continues to support the events and in-kind services.” 

This year, the charity has a $50,000 fundraising goal. “We want to continue to host the fireworks, but we don’t want to compromise the quality of event,” said Nicandri. “We want to provide the community a free event that they can enjoy, but at the same time walk away with a little revenue to support our mission of providing support to children, teens and adults with special needs and their families.”

By the Numbers

Expenses2023 Actual2024 Projected
Public Works Damage Deposit$1,000$1,000
Light Tower Fuel$58.50$100
Misc. Expense$67.94$100

Suncoast Charities has organized a July Fourth bayfront fireworks donation campaign on its website at Sponsorship opportunities range from $10,000 to $1,500 and include reserved seating at Marina Jack with complimentary food and beverage and various marketing opportunities. 

If you think about it, investing in this year’s fireworks display is a win for the community in two ways — continuing our community’s annual patriotic celebration and benefiting worthwhile children’s organizations. Observer Media Group is committed. But we’re suckers for a good Fourth of July celebration. Blame it on my mother, Lisa Walsh, who was the co-founder of Longboat Key’s Freedom Fest. And we’re happy to carry on the tradition. 

You can too, “’cause baby you’re a firework! Come on, show ’em what you’re worth!” 



Emily Walsh

Emily Walsh is the president of Observer Media Group and has served as publisher of the OMG’s Sarasota-based publications since 2016. She joined the company in 2001 as Black Tie photographer, later serving as editor of Black Tie and Arts + Entertainment, an advertising sales executive and chief digital officer.

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