BROOKSVILLE — Promoters of the upcoming Florida Blueberry Festival were able to put one more piece of their organizational puzzle together Tuesday when the Hernando County Commission approved a measure that will allow them to sell beer and wine at a downtown county-owned park.
The favorable 3-2 vote was a reversal from two weeks ago, when commissioners offered a split decision to provide $14,000 to help pay for the event's traffic control while denying organizers the authority to sell alcoholic beverages in Hernando Park, which will be the cornerstone of the festival's live entertainment, including country headliner Easton Corbin.
Blueberry Festival coordinator Michael Heard said that the passage of the measure greatly improves the chance of turning a profit during this year's second annual festival, which will be May 4 and 5 in downtown Brooksville.
"We're relying on that extra revenue to put us over the top this year," said Heard, who estimated that last year's festival grossed about $20,000 in beer and wine sales.
County commissioners spent little time debating the issue, but their concerns revolved mainly around protecting the county from any liability that might come about as a result of alcohol being sold and consumed on county-owned property. Sales last year were on private property.
Commissioner Jim Adkins, who along with commission Chairman Dave Russell voted against the measure, said he might have supported the idea had beer and wine sales been handled by county employees, as is the case at county-sponsored events such as Reggae Sunfest and Bluesapalooza.
Nick Nicholson said that while he wasn't eager to support alcohol sales at any county facility, he would agree with the proposal as long as organizers provided adequate insurance and promised to monitor alcohol sales to avoid sending people away from the festival inebriated.
Heard said that none of that would be a problem and pledged to buy a $3 million liability policy that would cover any such circumstances.
"We don't expect the county or city to have to pick up the tab for anything that we should be responsible for," she said.
Heard said that while organizers of last year's inaugural Blueberry Festival paid all event expenses, she and other board members felt that Hernando County and the city of Brooksville should have more of a partnership role in sponsoring the event.
Two weeks ago, the county offered $14,000 from its tourism development fund that will go toward the estimated $30,000 cost of closing the city's two main thoroughfares and rerouting traffic to accommodate the street festival. Last month, Brooksville City Council members voted to allocate about $25,000 in cash and in-kind services for the festival.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.