St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has decided to once again decline to offer fireworks for Independence Day — the fourth straight year the city won't host a show on July 4th.
"The Mayor remains focused on balancing the many needs of our community, including neighborhood safety and housing insecurity, as he develops his 2022 city budget proposal and looks toward leveraging the enormous potential of American Rescue Plan funds," spokesman Peter Leggett said in an e-mail.
"Our 2021 city budget included zero city staff layoffs, zero property tax increase, and zero use of our emergency reserve funds realized through budget reductions in nearly every single department; it includes no line item for fireworks."
In May, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board announced that it would not hold its annual Red, White and Boom! Independence Day celebration for the second year in a row because it did not have enough time to adequately plan the riverfront fireworks show after COVID restrictions were relaxed. The event was canceled last summer due to the pandemic.
Carter first announced in a late June 2018 Facebook post that there would be no fireworks show in St. Paul, saying he "can't in good conscience support spending tax dollars on a fireworks display." The grumbling over Carter's decision grew louder after it was discovered he'd declined offers from the business community to help fund a show.
A grassroots effort to raise money to fund fireworks in 2019 quickly fizzled. And, in 2020, pretty much every town in Minnesota canceled shows, thanks to restrictions on public gatherings due to COVID-19.
But the mayor's decision doesn't mean downtown skies will be dark on the 4th. Fireworks shows will follow St. Paul Saints games at CHS Field on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 2-4, as part of the Downtown Welcome Back Weekend, which will include block parties, live music, food trucks and Saints baseball. It is being sponsored by the Saints, the St. Paul Downtown Alliance and Securian Financial.
B Kyle, president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said downtown businesses are working "to fill in the gaps" in an effort to draw people back downtown after COVID-19. Putting on July 4th fireworks shows is part of an overall $1.5 million effort to stage more than 300 events through the summer and fall, she said. "The weekend of July 4 will be spectacular!" she said.
While the fireworks shows aren't free, Saints Executive Vice President Tom Whaley said a baseball game and a fireworks show for a $5 ticket "is a pretty good deal."
Carter's decision to refrain from a city-funded fireworks display isn't an anomaly. For decades, the city of St. Paul didn't have to.
From 1983 until 2010, A Taste of Minnesota regularly attracted more than 200,000 people over several days every year — each with a finale of free fireworks — first on the grounds of the State Capitol and then at Harriet Island. But over the past few years, the festival fell on harder economic times, and in 2010, A Taste of Minnesota filed for bankruptcy. The festival limped along for several years until it folded in 2016.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428