The death of St. Paul’s fireworks show was long in the making

Mayor Melvin Carter: no fireworks in St. Paul this year -- at least, not on the city's dime.

Mayor Melvin Carter: no fireworks in St. Paul this year -- at least, not on the city's dime. Star Tribune

It has been decided: There won’t be any 4th of July fireworks in St. Paul this year. At least the city’s not paying for any.

Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday that the annual display was a no-go this year for financial reasons.

“As I’ve considered the budgetary priorities we manage across our city in the first year of my administration, I’ve decided I can’t in good conscience support spending tax dollars on a fireworks display in St. Paul this year,” he said.

To say the fireworks display was ‘canceled’ wouldn’t be totally accurate. Carter says a show was never in the works. Spokesperson Liz Xiong says they were briefed on fireworks expenses in February, and knew by March that the city was probably not going to pick up the tab. Fireworks cost about $1,000 a minute. Add in street closures and public safety expenses, and this year’s event would have run about $100,000.

No, Xiong says, St. Paul is not broke -- not to the point $100,000 is going to make or break it. But the city has more pressing matters, like street maintenance.

“We’ve had a really rough winter,” Xiong says. She also says there are quite a few underfunded parks and rec centers that could use a little love.

Funding fireworks has always been a piecemeal process – part marketing fund and part eating the expenses by tightening departmental belts.

It was easier back in the Taste of Minnesota days, when corporate sponsors were happy to pony up. In 2015 and 2016, the St. Paul Saints just let the city bulk up its own fireworks display with a small contribution. Last year, the Saints had an away game. Without some kind of sponsorship, Xiong says, the display is just not sustainable.

But canceling the fireworks wasn’t just a money decision, she says: it was a bandwidth decision. In the first three months of Carter’s first term, the last thing on his mind was planning a fireworks show.

“It’s not something you can just whip up,” Xiong says.

The reaction from residents has been mixed. Some thought the measure was just sensible finance. Others were grateful not to have to comfort their dog or deal with PTSD this year.

Some, of course, were angry. Carter has been called unpatriotic, accused of taking away the colorful display as a reaction to a wash of conservative Supreme Court decisions being handed down that same day. For the record, Xiong says, that’s not true.

But some have taken it into their own hands to make sure the display happens next year, offering to pitch in a donation, or starting a page.

Xiong says Carter’s not opposed to having fireworks displays in the future, but time will tell if it’s higher on the list by then.