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Marco Island will likely not celebrate Independence Day with fireworks due to COVID-19 concerns

For years Marco Island has celebrated Independence Day with fireworks, but that tradition will likely change in 2020 as City Council failed to pass a motion Monday to sign a contract with a fireworks company.

Councilors Charlette Roman, Larry Honig and Howard Reed voted against the motion citing coronavirus-related concerns like requesting barely-open businesses to donate money for the event and unmanageable crowds which may spread the virus.

Chairperson Erik Brechnitz, Vice-chair Jared Grifoni and City Councilor Victor Rios voted in favor, resulting in a tie.

A motion can only pass when adopted by the affirmative vote of at least a majority of council members present and voting at the meeting, according to the city's code of ordinances.

“Businesses are not in a position to match the money this year as they have in all years prior,” Roman said.

“This is not the year,” Honig said. “I think it would be unfair to us to push that.”

Rios said he would volunteer to raise the money needed for the celebration but his offer was not enough to convince some of his peers.

Large crowds may gather on the city’s beach if Naples or Collier County decides not to celebrate the holiday with fireworks, according to Roman.

“I think that has some resource implications along with public health implications and I’m not sure if we have the answers tonight to make that decision,” she said.

Rios said the city could manage large crowds.

“Yeah, it’s risky,” he said. “We are going to have maybe some crowd issues but I’m sure we can manage them if we work it properly.”

A motion from Grifoni to instruct the city manager to renegotiate the terms of the contract by adding a back-up day for the fireworks show also failed.

“I find no consolation on doing it on Labor Day,” Brechnitz said. “It’s just not the same kind of celebration.”

“I think our citizens are desperate for something to look forward to.”

The city manager had until Tuesday to sign the contract, according to Lina Upham, the city’s purchasing and risk manager. She said the city would have to pay about $25,000 for the barge that would carry the fireworks even if the event is cancelled.

“I would come down on the side of taking the risk that we might lose some money and try to do this,” Brechnitz said.

It is too late to find another vendor, according to Brechnitz.

"The only possibility I see it at this juncture is to renegotiate with our current vendor to see if there’s any flexibility," he wrote to Marco Eagle on Tuesday.

Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce supports the city's decision to not have fireworks on July 4, according to its executive director Dianna Dohm. The chamber traditionally helps the city with marketing for firework donations.

"We support the city in their decision," she wrote to the Eagle on Tuesday.

MICA cancels its July 4 events

Marco Island Civic Association will not support the city-sponsored fireworks display this year because of COVID-19 concerns, Ruth McCann, the association's executive director, wrote in an email sent to City Council on May 8.

City staff provided a copy of the email to the Eagle.

"The fireworks display brings mobs of people together on the beach," she wrote. "It also acts as a magnet to draw people from out of town."

"Thousands of people gather at beachfront locations, and it would be a medical professional’s nightmare when all of those thousands of people turn to leave the beachfront via a few boardwalks and walkways."  

McCann wrote that "there is no way to socially distance in such a setting."

The association will also not host July 4 celebrations at Residents' Beach like it has done for 35 years, according to McCann. MICA's typical Independence Day celebration includes games for kids, crafts, face painting, music and a sandcastle building contest.

"The MICA Board of Directors is concerned for the safety of our employees, members and their guests," she wrote. "As you may be aware, thousands of people gather at Residents’ Beach each year on July Fourth."

MICA's decision to eliminate its festivities is one of the reasons Honig voted against the motion to sign the fireworks contract, according to the councilor.

"MICA closes Residents’ Beach at dusk, and it was not made clear whether the city has obtained MICA’s agreement to open beach access at night," he wrote to the Eagle on Tuesday.

At the meeting, Honig said the association should have consulted the city before making a decision.

"MICA, they sort of preempted us by coming out rather than going to the manager and say ‘hey, this is what we are thinking, what do you think?’" he said.

Mike McNees, city manager, said the association and the city should coordinate any July 4 festivities.

“I do believe it would be nice if MICA and the city were coordinating whatever this celebration is going to be together, with the Chamber as well, as opposed to having us on different pages doing different things for different reasons," he said.

McCann did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Contact Omar Rodríguez Ortiz at omar.rodriguezortiz@naplesnews.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.