LAND O'LAKES — Visitors to the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce home page get an idyllic picture, "a place of safe neighborhoods, with great schools, outstanding recreational activities and community events that are enthusiastically supported."
Web masters might have to update that last part.
Tempers have been sizzling like burned batter ever since chamber officials recently announced plans to move the community's annual Flapjack Festival — a 30-year-old autumn tradition that began when only one caution light governed traffic — from its home on U.S. 41 to the Pasco County Fairgrounds just outside Dade City. According to Mapquest.com, that's 21.29 miles away. Estimated travel time: 29 minutes.
This is more than a story about a change of venue. It's about mourning the loss of a once-small town's way of life as big-box stores, multilane highways and commuters redefine the area.
"It would be like Plant City moving the Strawberry Festival out of Plant City," said Buni Dakers, a past chamber president now living in Tampa. "It was moved to Collier Parkway and State Road 54 one year, and there was a lot of turmoil just about doing that."
Michael Craven said he was disappointed in the decision but he hated to criticize volunteers who put the event together.
"I hate to see the Land O'Lakes area lose it as a Land O'Lakes event," said Craven, a former festival chairman and chiropractor who has practiced in the area since 1983. Craven likened his emotions to those he felt several years ago when the chamber dropped Land O'Lakes from its name. A father of three, he said, the festival and its carnival rides were ideal for families.
"You'd see your neighbors. You'd see people you went to church with. Your kids would burn all the money you had given them to ride rides with and then you'd go home."
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Organizers say it's the last thing they wanted, but they were left with no choice. With the event drawing about 40,000 visitors and land that had been used for parking under development contracts, they had to look elsewhere.
"We've known for several years we were going to have to find a new site," said attorney Tim Hayes, a former chamber president who remains active in the organization. "Everybody had hoped that site would be somewhere in the community."
To some old-timers, the decision to take away Land O'Lakes' signature event is tantamount to treason.
"The Flapjack Festival needs to stay in Land O'Lakes! If that means it can't grow bigger, or if it means it needs to be downsized, do it. Sometimes the history of your community is more important than bigger and better," land surveyor Eddie Jenkins wrote in a recent letter to the Times.
Jenkins wrote that he feared the event would be "gobbled up" by Dade City or Pasco County and no longer would be identified with his hometown.
"I don't care," he wrote. "I won't go."
Kathy Dunkley, the chamber's executive director, is weary of the negative phone calls and letters. She says the move, approved by the 18-member board, not her, isn't about expanding the festival.
"We're moving this because we have to. We don't want it to die."
Several things conspired to make a new site necessary. Landowner Ted Williams, a former property appraiser, is selling his acreage near the community center. It had been used for parking. Property across the street was sold as well.
Sanders Elementary School, which had donated space for part of the midway, is expanding and has put in extra parking there. Dunkley estimated the chamber needs 35 to 40 acres for the festival and parking. It also needs sources for running water and electricity.
Dunkley said board members explored every option.
"We've ridden up and down roads. We've looked at fields," she said. Two options, Connerton and an area called the Concourse in the northwest part of the county, proved unworkable.
"Connerton really tried," she said, adding that it could be a possibility someday. "They were wonderful."
The fate of the parade, which wound down School Street, remains up in the air.
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Residents polled informally at the Pasco County Library all expressed disapproval of the new location.
"I don't know that I'd go out that far for it," said Julie Olson, whose son and daughter grew up attending the event. Naturally, they were drawn to the rides, but Olson enjoyed the crafts and food booths operated by community groups that piggybacked on the profits.
Cindy Ray, whose husband owns the business that has supplied search lights for the event for the past couple of years, said he won't participate. "He won't provide it if it's out in Dade City."
Charlie Reese, a longtime resident and former chamber president, said that kind of thinking is irrational.
"People drive to downtown (Tampa) and much farther for places for events," he said. "It's no big deal. It's just a few miles away. It's not something to get all excited about."
He said safety always has been a big concern and holding the event in its former location got riskier every year. Ten years ago, when he was chamber president, "U.S. 41 was only two lanes and so many people were crossing the street there. Now, 41 has gotten bigger and the plot of land you have to squeeze the festival on has gotten smaller."
Reese said he hopes locals will still support the festival.
"Where do the New York Giants have home field? New Jersey. Where is the Cincinnati airport? It's in Kentucky. If the Flapjack Festival moves across the county, what's the big deal?"
Organizers have joked that they might even take a page from the Gasparilla playbook and act like an invading krewe.
"Land O'Lakes people should consider themselves as annexing Dade City," Reese said.
Hayes wonders if moving the festival will cause it to lose the sense of community that made it worth having in the first place. It's a question other Pasco communities also will have to grapple with as development continues to swallow up land needed for such events.
"Flapjack was a unique annual event where the community had an opportunity to come together. If you can't keep that local you may lose what made the Flapjack Festival so popular, " he said.
The festival, he said, had "the flavor of the local little amusement park. It's as much being seen there as it is in the event itself."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.