For as long as Tammy and Gus Gaspardo could remember, St. Paul would launch a brilliant Fourth of July fireworks display from the west bank of the Mississippi River near Harriet Island. People would line the High Bridge and climb Mounds Park for a show that began at 10 p.m. on the dot.
The Gaspardos made a business of taking folks out to front-row seats on the river. They own Padelford Riverboats, and every year people would call as early as May to reserve spots on their Fourth of July fireworks cruise. They’d dock just before the show, allowing families to watch the lights and colors exploding overhead.
Then, in 2014, the flooding of Harriet Island prompted the city to move the fireworks to the State Capitol Mall. In 2015, it was again moved to CHS Field.
The city blasted the transfer on its social media and the Saints issued an advisory, but hundreds of families missed the message. Those who gathered at Harriet Island according to tradition were left in the dark. Those who didn’t want to buy a baseball ticket just to see some fireworks tried to find spots in or around Lowertown, but had to wait for the Saints to wrap up extra innings. When the fireworks began, it was already 11 p.m. By then, lots of families with young children had gotten tired of waiting.
The Gaspardos tried to make their fireworks cruise work. They hopped in the boat and went down the river one night before the Fourth to try to gauge whether they would be able to see the CHS Field fireworks. Not at all, they quickly discovered.
Because of the airport’s height restrictions, the fireworks couldn’t be shot very high. They had to break it to all their regular customers that after 30 years, their Fourth of July cruise was officially ending.
“We’re a small, family-owned business, and we have just a short amount of time to make income,” Tammy says. “Any big cruise that we had is a big deal to us, and we sold those cruises out. As far as our business, there was a huge impact.”
This year, droves of families again huddled on Harriet Island and along the riverside in wait for fireworks that never came. St. Paul had already decided to move its fireworks show to CHS Field for good.
The city did learn one thing from the confusion of last year — the gates of the stadium were opened at 9 p.m. for the public, so no one had to buy a ticket to see the show.
"CHS Field had a full house enjoying the fireworks this year, of not only game goers but also the general public, who were able to enjoy the stadium and its amenities while seeing the fireworks show," says Ashley Aram, the mayor's spokeswoman. "We did have a handful of complaints to the Mayor’s Office, but it’s not unusual to receive a few complaints about the fireworks each year, whether it be about noise, duration or location."