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Rosy assessment for blueberry festival

BROOKSVILLE — While not everything went as planned, organizers of the inaugural Florida Blueberry Festival two weeks ago seemed to believe that the event was a success.

At a meeting Thursday of the leaders of the Brooksville Vision Foundation, festival chairwoman Michael Heard delivered an optimistic assessment.

The event drew an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people, she said. And although others insist those attendance figures are inflated, most agreed that the event did what it was supposed to do: It raised awareness of a regionally grown product, lured a huge crowd into downtown Brooksville and gave local businesses a much-needed financial boost for the weekend.

Although a final financial tally isn't ready yet, Heard said preliminary figures show that the festival probably at least broke even. And that was enough, she said, to fuel enthusiasm for next year's event.

"Any first-time event is a huge learning curve," she said. "I think the people who were involved are excited at the prospect that we're only going to get better."

Perhaps the most common complaints were that parking lots were too far away and parking fees too high. Another gripe was that the festival's star attraction — fresh blueberries — were almost nowhere to be found inside the festival grounds.

Heard said the event lost money on parking because organizers had to hire a bus company to provide transportation to and from the venue. Additionally, private landowners near the festival site offered parking spaces a few dollars cheaper, which cut into the event's profits.

As for the availability of fresh blueberries, Heard agreed that was a misstep on the organizers' part. The berries were kept in refrigerated trucks and were available to festival-goers in the parking areas, she said.

"Obviously, we're going to have to rethink a lot of things," she said. "We have an entire year, so at least we have time to consider a lot of options."

With plans for next year's blueberry festival under way, Brooksville Vision Foundation member Sonny Vergara said the time is right for the group to consider holding other events.

"The blueberry festival was just the beginning," Vergara said. "We've shown the community that Brooksville can be vibrant place that people want to visit. I think it said a lot about how positive the city's future can be."

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

Rosy assessment for blueberry festival 05/18/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 8:32pm]

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