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Brooksville merchants and residents fret about Blueberry Festival

BROOKSVILLE — Six weeks out, plans for the inaugural Florida Blueberry Festival are taking firm root in the host city.

Organizers have spent months preparing for the three-day event, which will take place May 4 to 6. They've hired bands, contracted food and beverage vendors and have brought dozens of sponsors on board.

But some residents and business owners in Brooksville have expressed concern over being left out of the information loop when it comes to things like street closures, traffic logistics and downtown parking.

And that bothers Brooksville City Council member Joe Bernardini, who said he is frequently asked how downtown life will be affected by the event, which is expected to draw about 30,000 people.

"There's a huge lack of information to the public," Bernardini said. "And when people don't know what's going on, they start speculating and saying things that may or may not be true."

Twelve square blocks of downtown Brooksville have been set aside for entertainment pavilions, five stages for live music, kids activity booths and about 150 vendors. To create more room for the event, and to control pedestrian traffic, organizers want to block off portions of several streets, including Jefferson, Broad, Main and Liberty streets and Fort Dade Avenue.

Event parking will be off-site, and patrons will be transported to the festival area by bus.

Bobby Meadows, owner of Bobby Meadows Printing and Antiques on Main Street, said he has yet to hear any official word as to whether parking will be available near his shop during the festival.

"We've sort of been kept in the dark," Meadows said. "If my customers can't park, they can't load merchandise. It would be difficult to do normal business."

Meadows said that he has nothing against the event. In fact, he believes it will be a boon to the city.

"We'd just like a little more information," he said.

Festival chairwoman Michael Heard said that planning the festival has been a huge undertaking for her and her two-person staff. Not everything has gone according to schedule. While she is sympathetic to those who live and work downtown, she would prefer to release logistical information after all traffic plans have been finalized.

"It's not meant to be a slant against anyone," Heard said. "But there's no point in passing along information if there's a possibility it might not be correct."

According to Heard, traffic heading into downtown on Jefferson and Broad streets — the one-way couple for U.S. 41 — will be diverted to other thoroughfares. Once the Department of Transportation approves the proposed rerouting plan, she will send out a news release and distribute fliers to downtown interests.

In the meantime, representatives from the Blueberry Festival will be on hand at tonight's monthly meeting of the Brooksville Business Alliance. The meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. at the Rising Sun Cafe, 10 S Main St. in Brooksville.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Brooksville merchants and residents fret about Blueberry Festival 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 6:53pm]
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