JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With COVID-19 cases continuing to climb, most fireworks shows in Northeast Florida have been postponed. Jacksonville has gone in the opposite direction.
Instead of one giant fireworks display drawing thousands of people to line the St. Johns River downtown, the city will launch fireworks from six different spots across the River City to keep people spread out and socially distanced.
Mayor Lenny Curry promises it will be “bigger, better and safer.”
Jordan Elsbury, the mayor’s chief of staff, said it’s more important than ever to have something for people to look forward to.
“When the mayor made the decision to move forward with it, we wanted to add additional locations all around the city so that everyone could participate as opposed to congregating in a single location like they typically do at one or two locations,” Elsbury told News4Jax on Sunday.
The goal is to spread out the crowds with multiple locations around the city, making social distancing possible.
At one of the traditional fireworks viewing spots -- where the Jacksonville Landing stood last year -- the city has marked out and painted social distancing circles on the lawn and put up signs encouraging people to stick to their circles.
Ryan Ali, the chief of sports entertainment for the city of Jacksonville, wants everyone to be responsible as they watch the firework displays.
“We want to make sure that you are socially distancing,” Ali said. “This is a quick reminder: stay in the circle, social distance, remain safe in that circle.”
But you don’t have to go downtown at all. The city will launch fireworks from six locations: Downtown Jacksonville, the St. Johns Town Center Mall, Florida State College at Jacksonville North Campus on the Northside, the Avenues Mall on the Southside, Normandy/Lem Merrett Park on the Westside and Ed Austin Regional Park in Arlington.
“I think the big thing is, you know, you’ve got people that are probably going to come in here,” said Charles Waggoner, president and founder of 904 Happy Hour. “And if you’re coming to Jacksonville, please, you know, social distance, wear a mask and celebrate.”
“I think it’s actually pretty good,” said Jacksonville resident Katrina Rogers. “People have an opportunity to kind of be outside of the comfort of their own home and see the fireworks and still celebrate if they choose to celebrate”
As far as where to set up your chairs or where to park your car, you’re not going to get those details.
“I knew that it was going to be spread out, but I haven’t heard too much. I wonder if that’s meant to keep people interested and guessing and maybe not overload a certain area,” said Rob Hodges.
It’s not that there’s a lack of preparation from the city. But the fewer details given, the fewer chances of large groups gathering in a small area. That was becoming more apparent as News4Jax went to the different locations on Friday.
At Friendship Fountain on the Southbank, there were a few social distancing signs, but no markers or vendor setups like in years past. At Normandy/Lem Merrett Park, there was not a sign or social distancing circle in sight. And at Ed Austin Regional Park, there was just a lot of empty space, which is a good thing during a pandemic.
“I think it’s a great way to keep people from piling in, and it will probably help with traffic because, for me, that’s the worst part of Fourth of July,” Hodges said.
If you can’t make it out to one of the six locations, you can always watch the fireworks in the comfort of your home on Channel 4, with the “Red, White and Boom” show from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 4.
The fireworks display at all locations are scheduled to begin at 9:45 p.m.