Mayor Melvin Carter’s office declined multiple offers to help pull together a July 4 fireworks display in St. Paul after he announced in late June that the annual event would not happen.
The St. Paul Saints baseball team rounded up corporate sponsors for fireworks at CHS Field. Hiway Federal Credit Union offered to donate $50,000 that could be matched by other businesses. Council Member Jane Prince asked if she could solicit private donations.
The mayor and his staff considered these offers but ultimately decided against accepting them, according to e-mails and voice mails obtained by the Star Tribune through a public records request. “I’m moving on from this & not going to ask anybody for money for it,” Carter said in a June 28 e-mail to Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher, adding that they would soon be raising money for other city initiatives. “Let’s not make competing asks.”
Peter Leggett, Carter’s communications director, said in a statement Thursday that while “the mayor was encouraged by interest from private sector partners, those discussions did not yield the necessary support to cover the full costs of hosting and securing an Independence Day celebration without pulling public safety resources from St. Paul neighborhoods.”
“The mayor looks forward to continuing these discussions for next year,” the statement said.
Carter announced in a June 27 Facebook post that the city would not put on a July 4 fireworks show. E-mails show Carter and his staff had been mulling the decision since May.
At a news conference shortly after his announcement, Carter said private sponsors had previously helped cover the cost of the event — which he and his staff members estimated at $100,000 — but that those resources weren’t available this year.
On June 28, Bill Wagner, Hiway’s vice president of business development, e-mailed Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Kathy Korum and offered to help fund a fireworks display. Korum forwarded the e-mail to Parks Director Mike Hahm, explaining that Wagner had offered $50,000 from Hiway to pay for fireworks if the money were matched by other businesses.
The e-mail chain made its way to Leggett, who said the mayor “has expressed his thanks but is passing on this.”
Tara Graff, Hiway’s senior vice president of marketing and business development, confirmed that Hiway made the offer and said it was “very graciously taken and declined.”
Also on June 28, Prince e-mailed Tincher and offered to help salvage the fireworks display.
“I fully understand Mayor Carter’s reluctance to spend any public funds on a fireworks display this year,” Prince wrote. “I write to see if I might be part of trying to find private funds to arrange for this annual celebration.”
In an interview Thursday, Prince said she “wanted to be constructive and helpful.”
“It’s not just fireworks,” she said. “It’s kind of the way it brings the community together.”
In her e-mail to Tincher, Prince suggested asking local professional sports teams to donate and said she was “definitely intending to ask the Saints to start paying for their own policing.”
City-owned CHS Field has hosted July 4 fireworks since 2015, after years of fireworks at the Taste of Minnesota. The event at CHS costs the city $17,000 for fireworks and portable toilets, plus donated police services, according to a May 23 mayor’s office memo.
After Carter’s announcement this year, the Saints tried to organize a last-minute fireworks show with sponsors including Ecolab, Securian Financial, Spire Credit Union and the Prairie Island Indian Community.
Derek Sharrer, the team’s executive vice president and general manager, said in an interview that Saints officials had concerns about organizing the event within a short time frame. Though the team had found sponsors, they needed the city’s help with traffic, police and permitting, he said.
“We just felt like it was best that we decide not to do the show, just because it was such a quick window of time that everything needed to be pulled off,” Sharrer said.
As the offers of help came in, Carter was simultaneously bombarded with e-mails from people in St. Paul and across the state. While some expressed disappointment, or even anger — one e-mail said simply, “Shame on you” — others were laudatory.
State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, e-mailed Carter on the afternoon of June 27 to say he supported the decision.
“While you may receive some criticism, it is important to focus on our priorities, and at a time when many residents are struggling to pay their bills and the city has so many pressing needs, this is a wise choice,” Marty wrote. “Canceling the fireworks display is important, both symbolically and financially.”