CORTEZ – The Independence Day festivities will continue for an extra day when the Swordfish Grill hosts a legally-permitted fireworks display on Friday, July 5.
Swordfish Grill owner John Banyas obtained a public fireworks display permit from Manatee County on Tuesday and a second permit from the West Manatee Fire Rescue (WMFR) fire department on Wednesday.
Launching at 9 p.m., the permitted July 5 fireworks display will replace the non-permitted July 4 fireworks show that’s become a Cortez tradition in recent years.
On Wednesday, General Manager Bob Slicker said all the restaurant’s waterfront patio tables have already reserved for Friday evening, but there will still be standing-room-only space available.
There will also be seating inside the restaurant and sports bar, and it’ll be business as usual, except the kitchen will close at 8 p.m. so the kitchen staff can enjoy the fireworks.
“Our neighbors at the Cortez Kitchen will also be open and there may be some seats available there too,” Slicker said.
The fireworks will launch from an offshore barge and should also be visible from the Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach and along Bradenton Beach’s eastern shoreline.
Tip prompts investigation
Banyas obtained the fireworks permits in response to a June 12 investigation that began with WMFR Fire Inspector Rodney Kwiatkowski responding to two anonymous tips about fireworks being stored at a Cortez home on 124th Street owned by Banyas and rented to Slicker.
“We drove by and confirmed what appeared to be fireworks in an open garage. So, we got the appropriate people together went to the residence, introduced ourselves and asked if we could go in and see what we’re looking at.”
Kwiatkowski said the response team included Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies and members of the county bomb squad. He said the bomb squad responded due to the large amount of fireworks being stored.
“There’s no citation. The only issue we had was with the storage being so close to all the residences. The storage was in violation of a county ordinance. They were asked to move them. They obliged and they were going to have them sent back to the company that delivered them. They were very cooperative,” Kwiatkowski said.
“We also let them know that we were available to facilitate the permitting process and walk them through it, which we did. We met with John Banyas, showed him what was required for a permitted fireworks display and pointed him in the direction of some licensed pyrotechnic companies,” Kwiatkowski said.
“We’ve been working with them and the county to help facilitate this. This is the way it’s supposed to work, and everybody wins in the end,” he added.
“I’ll go out during the day and do an inspection during set up to make sure the licensed ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) shooter is there on site. In the evening, we’ll have a dedicated fire engine crew there during the display,” Kwiatkowski said.
Kwiatkowski said it’s legal to possess fireworks in Florida if purchased for agricultural purposes such as scaring off birds or other animals, but it’s illegal to detonate explosive fireworks without a permit. He feels this loophole in Florida law creates confusion and is something WMFR officials hope to close in the future.
“I don’t believe Bob Slicker was intentionally trying to break the law. I think well-intentioned people, because of this law, are put in a position that is unfortunate,” Kwiatkowski said. “We want people to celebrate, but we need them do it in a way that is safe and legal.”
“This fireworks show has been going on for five years,” Slicker said. “Me and a group of local fishermen and business owners have been doing this to help our community celebrate Cortez and Independence Day. We had the garage door open and we were doing everything out in the public, just as we have for the past five years.
“Until this, we never had a complaint about the fireworks show that has become a community event at no cost to anyone but those who volunteer their own money. This is the first time anybody told us we were doing something wrong. As soon as they did, we stopped and did everything asked of us. We had to move the fireworks and they’re now stored in a safe, secure and approved location,” Slicker said.
“The fire department, the sheriff’s deputies and the bomb squad were all very kind to us and the county commissioners also helped us. We really appreciate how helpful everyone was in walking us through the permitting process,” Slicker said.
“We actually have more than twice the amount of fireworks the other local paper said we had,” he added, noting that next year’s show will be permitted in time to return to its traditional July 4 date.
The Swordfish Grill will still feature plenty of July 4 activity this year.
“We’ll have our annual hot dog eating contest at 1 p.m. and Tim Chandler will be playing. It’ll be business as usual and you can see many other fireworks shows from our deck,” Slicker said.