With Independence Day less than a month away, Naples City Council and staff are discussing the future of the city’s annual parade and fireworks show. Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Chad Merritt spoke to Council Monday about how the Fourth of July parade has become a struggle to organize and publicize compared to the city’s Christmas parade event.
“We don’t have those school groups that are coming, [with] the cheerleaders, because those kids are on break,” Merritt said. “… I think last year [it] was about 20 minutes, and that was [with] a lot of resources used.”
Merritt said since the quality of the parade is declining, he seeks direction from Council on whether it should change the event and move in another direction. He said, so far, around 20 entries for this year’s parade were received.
“Looking at all of our events, this is the one that kind of stands out that we don’t feel has quite met the theme of what it needs or what we want,” he said.
Council member Ted Blankenship is against canceling the parade, mentioning a lack of publicity hurt the event the last couple of years due to concerns that COVID-19 outbreaks could cancel the parade. He also said there has been a change of staff responsible for organizing and publicizing the event.
“I think there are things we could do to let people know we are having it. We want their participation and to get partners to help us with that,” Blankenship said. “To me, it’s just an important part of celebrating who we are as a country.”
The Fourth of July can be a long day for city staff, with some working more than 12 hours to cover both the parade and the evening fireworks. The city plans to spend more than $12,000 on staffing for just the parade alone. City Manager Jay Boodheshwar worries about burnout within the various departments.
“We want to make sure that the resources that we do have are managed and give us a big bang for the buck in the community and we don’t stretch everybody too thin,” Boodheshwar said. “And that is the reality of what’s been happening.”
Merritt questioned whether putting on the parade is worth sacrificing the quality of the fireworks show.
“I felt that there was so much missing from the firework show, … but the reason why we can’t really do a whole lot and expand that is because we do have so many resources dedicated to the parade,” he said.
Vice Mayor Michael McCabe is against expanding the fireworks show. He recommended the Fourth of July fireworks be pushed to Dec. 1, which coincides with the city’s 100th anniversary.
“Our beach avenue ends are not ready for [the fireworks], our pier is not ready for it,” McCabe said. “It is a liability issue for the city, and if we want to make it bigger, that’s even worse. And having a fireworks display during the summer is really a benefit for the county. The city residents really aren’t here for it.”
Mayor Teresa Heitmann agreed with the city not hosting fireworks on Independence Day.
“Throwing away a Fourth of July parade is like losing apple pie and motherhood for everyone in the community,” Hetimann said. “I’d rather get rid of the fireworks. I think it should be an either/or [situation]. It just dawned on me after all these years that our staff is doing a parade, and then they’re doing the fireworks.”
Council agreed to host the parade event as planned and will have a second discussion Wednesday regarding the fireworks show.
“The reality is it’s not going to be the Christmas parade,” Boodheshwar said. “We’re not going to have the volume of entry. Perhaps the route might be a little bit shorter, but if this is something that we want to do as a tradition in this community, we can begin working on next year right away.”