Leesburg Commission facing tough decision on future of July 4 fireworks show

Leesburg commissioners will consider a proposal on June 22 to cancel the city’s popular July 4 fireworks display – although it didn’t appear last week that the idea had much support.

At last Monday’s regularly scheduled commission meeting, City Manager Al Minner suggested the show be canceled for public safety reasons due to the ever-increasing size of the crowds – many of whom are from other communities and come into the city for annual show. He said the request to cancel the display wasn’t really based on the COVID-19 outbreak but more on the efforts required to manage the massive crowd.

“As more and more people come into this area, it’s harder and harder to patrol,” he said.

By waiting until the June 22 meeting, the commission will be on the hook for $2,000, even if the show is canceled. But Mayor Elise Dennison said it was worth waiting because it would be beneficial to have more information available as Florida continues to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic – a sentiment also expressed by Commissioner John Christian.

Commissioner Mike Pederson asked if there was a way to control the number of people who attended the show. Minner said police could control the number who watch the fireworks from the beach area on Lake Harris, but then the crowds would likely just spill into the outer areas and on city streets, which could create more problems.

Commissioner Dan Robuck III said he was in favor of the having the show but would want to hear from Police Chief Rob Hicks on the issues his department could face if the fireworks display goes on as planned. He asked if the Lake County Sheriff’s Office might be able to help out and said safety was a top priority.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jay Hurley expressed the strongest sentiment in favor of keeping the show, saying he understood concerns from the police department but also knows how much the show means to area residents – especially now with turmoil going on across the nation.

“We as a country and the community have been through so much,” he said. “I think that there needs to be something that’s positive that brings us back to the unity and togetherness in the community.”

Hurley also said it’s obvious that people want to come out and celebrate and it might be much safer to have one big show rather than people trying to put on their own displays.

“I would rather the masses come down here than everybody assemble in their backyards and we have 150 fireworks shows going on in the community instead of everybody down here trying to enjoy the show that we’re going to do,” he said, suggesting that many residents could come by boat to see the show. “We have groups gathering all over the country right now, so I don’t think that gathering is going to be an issue.”

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