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Florida Blueberry Festival may be fruitful for Brooksville; let's wait and see

It's the talk of the town, the upcoming Blueberry Festival.

And if you listen to this talk, you might not realize this event could be the best thing to happen to downtown Brooksville in years, that it will promote local businesses, that it should be a lot of fun.

No, you'll hear grumbling about the cost of parking ($10) and renting booths (between $250 and $500). You'll hear people wondering out loud where all this money is going. You hear downtown business owners say they've been kept in the dark about street closings. And, most of all, you hear people making uninformed comments about the plans of the "Blueberry People" — as tennis instructor Judy Jeanette calls them — to destroy Hernando Park, its trees and its tennis courts.

This negative chatter is a shame.

A lot of it's silly. All of it is unhelpful.

And, partly, it's the festival organizers' fault.

True, their monthly meetings were open to the public and, also true, the festival is still six weeks away.

But they could have done a little more a little earlier to make sure everybody was invited and informed, which to their credit, they did at the most recent meeting of the Brooksville Vision Foundation on Tuesday.

If you weren't able to go and haven't been able to buttonhole a festival organizer, here's an update:

Money. There's a lot of it. A total of $300,000 has been collected from sponsors such as the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and SunTrust Bank, said festival coordinator Michael Heard.

Local businesses have also kicked in thousands of dollars worth of in-kind donations — billboard space, the time of engineers who put together a traffic plan, a nice-looking aluminum fence at downtown's Hernando Park.

More bucks will roll in — a lot more — if the three-day festival really draws a crowd of 60,000, as Heard predicts. Even if it's half that, close to 15,000 carloads of folks will pay the previously mentioned fee to park at remote lots and be shuttled to the festival.

Such a big event means big expenses — newspaper and cable television ads, billboards in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, and generators and wiring to provide electricity for vendors, which is one reason the festival is charging them so much, Heard said.

Whatever money is left will be divided three ways between a collection of local charities, the Blueberry Growers and the Brooksville Vision Foundation, which will use the funds to promote downtown development and, hopefully, more festivals and art shows.

These, naturally, cause traffic disruptions. Twelve blocks of downtown Brooksville, including stretches of Broad and Jefferson streets, will be sealed off for three days to accommodate events, including — this is just a sample — a kids' zone, beer trucks, a parade, car and motorcycle shows, a Cinco de Mayo party and 25 bands on five stages.

One of those stages will be in the band shell at Hernando Park, and to handle the expected crowd, festival organizers plan to take down a fence at the tennis court and dismantle the playground. A rotten, aging water oak may have to be cut down for safety reasons, but that will only happen with county approval.

And, please pay attention Tennis People: the tennis court fence and the playground will be replaced after the festival.

The organizers couldn't have been clearer about this on Tuesday but gadfly Dennis Purdy still wanted to see a written contract and a performance bond.

Oh, brother!

Not to dump on Purdy. He and the most radical (only a slight exaggeration) tennis players spoke up in the past few weeks, made people realize the value of the courts and helped preserve the fence and the nearby crape myrtle trees.

And, when an event draws this much money, we should ask questions about how it's spent. We should ask even more when the event is over to see if it really brought in as much money as advertised and whether this had all been distributed fairly.

But for now, the festival organizers have tried to make up for whatever delay there was in keeping folks informed. And if they waited too long to start listening, they've listened now.

So maybe we can take a break from whatever grievance we've been harboring and appreciate the amount of work that has gone into this event and how much money it's bringing into a town that desperately needs it.

Now, maybe, we can look forward to enjoying ourself.

We could even consider doing something truly radical and offer to help out.

Florida Blueberry Festival may be fruitful for Brooksville; let's wait and see 03/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 8:07pm]
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