Stillwater has selected a new fireworks vendor to produce the city's July 4th show but won't sign a contract until some legal fireworks are settled.
The vendor, RES Specialty Pyrotechnics of Maple Plain, was chosen from five companies that submitted proposals to shoot fireworks over the St. Croix River in a show that draws tens of thousands of onlookers and hundreds of boaters.
Whether Stillwater eventually signs a contract with RES depends on the outcome of a legal investigation into St. Croix Events, which the city typically paid $40,000 a year to produce July 4th and Lumberjack Days fireworks shows.
The city recently suspended its St. Croix Events contract while the Washington County attorney's office reviews owner David Eckberg's finances for possible criminal charges.
The city's pending agreement with RES doesn't include Stillwater's other big fireworks show during Lumberjack Days. That four-day event to celebrate the city's logging heritage has been stalled because of Eckberg's legal and financial difficulties. He's produced the event since 1994, but a rash of complaints over unpaid bills led to the investigation.
"I'm becoming very skeptical that there will be a Lumberjack Days this summer," said City Administrator Larry Hansen. Considering the work that must be done, little time remains to organize the festival, he said.
The winning fireworks vendor, RES, and the city's second-favored bidder, Pyrotechnic Display Inc., both have done Stillwater's summer shows in the past. They contracted with Eckberg but quit because they didn't get paid, Hansen said.
RES has handled fireworks displays for several metro cities including Edina, Lakeville, Minnetonka and Fridley. The company also has produced shows for Woodbury Days, St. Paul's Winter Carnival and the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints baseball teams.
The city will pay RES up to $30,000 for a 20- to 30-minute show. City Council members in neighboring Oak Park Heights voted Tuesday night to contribute $7,000, said City Administrator Eric Johnson. Hansen said Stillwater has not yet decided how to use that money.
The Stillwater City Council will review a possible contract with RES on Feb. 21 "when hopefully a resolution on the existing contract is concluded," Hansen said.
The RES proposal promised to paint a dark sky with color in Stillwater with "many different shell effects and designs" to highlight the American flag's red, white and blue.
Hansen said he once viewed July 4th fireworks from atop the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
"Boats were everywhere," he said. "It looked like you could walk across the St. Croix and not get wet."
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles