BROOKSVILLE — City officials and business leaders in Brooksville hoped the Florida Blueberry Festival they hosted would be a boon for the area — not just for one weekend of the year, but as a baseline for regular public events for years to come. For them, 2017 was a huge disappointment.
At the end of 2016, the Brooksville City Council tinkered with a long-term lease that would give a portion of the city’s Quarry Golf Course to Blueberry Festival organizers. Since 2011, the festival has drawn tens of thousands of visitors annually.
The lease would have given the land to the festival for 40 years. But in the weeks leading up to the council vote, residents started to attend council meetings to complain.
Festival organizers wanted to develop the golf course land into a year-round venue that could include a convention center, an arena, a concert hall, a visitor center or other facilities. Several business leaders supported the plan, but others blasted the council. They said the lease would pull the festival out of downtown Brooksville and that it amounted to a giveaway of city property with its $1-per-year rent provision.
After a lengthy debate in February, the council approved the lease. But months went by, and it was not signed by the festival.
In a surprise announcement in June, festival leader Michael Heard said organizers would not sign the lease and were pulling the event out of Brooksville because the festival had outgrown the area.
Local businesses are planning to run a much smaller blueberry festival in Brooksville in late April.
Barbara Behrendt, Times staff