PLANT CITY — The Florida Strawberry Festival plans to build a new home for its Neighborhood Village.
Festival officials say they plan to tear down an aging building at Reynolds and Lemon streets and replace it with a larger structure nearby for the popular exhibits.
The Neighborhood Village stages annual competitions and displays scores of traditional handicrafts like quilts, homemade clothing, porcelain dolls, jewelry, preserves and elaborately decorated cakes. The village is inside the Milton E. Hull Building.
For years, Neighborhood Village organizers have sought more space as more crafters get added to the annual roster.
"It's so cramped where we are now you can't really see everything," said Betty Lucas, who heads the Neighborhood Village with her husband, Ken. "We're going to be able to do a lot more than we did before."
Construction on the new building hasn't been scheduled yet — officials are awaiting the design's completion — but they hope to have the 12,000-square-foot structure ready for next year's festival, Feb. 27 to March 9. The project is expected to cost about $1 million, festival president Jim Jefferies said.
"We're confident that we will get in before the next festival," he said.
The structure targeted for demolition is near Gate 5. A former restaurant, the one-story building dates to the 1960s and has become so dilapidated that only half of it is available for use. The rest is used for storage.
"The back side of it needs a total refurbishing and it needs to be brought up to standards, and we felt that if we're going to do all that let's put up a brand-new building that will meet our needs today and into the future," festival general manager Paul Davis said.
The building currently houses the festival's art show. Officials plan to move the show to the Hull building to provide more room for art exhibits.
In addition to creating a new home for the Neighborhood Village, the structure will house a museum to showcase festival memorabilia and highlight the contribution strawberry farming has made to Plant City.
"We want it to be of such quality that schools would want to bring their children in here for tours," Davis said. "We probably won't get it all done right away. The first phase is to get the Neighborhood Village in there and to make room to expand in the future."
At some point, he said, officials will add a first aid station with an ambulance.
"It will make it easier for an ambulance to get right out on to MLK," he said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.