Monday, May 21, 2018
Events

Popular Plant City Pig Jam ponders possible move

PLANT CITY — There's no denying pork's appeal.

The annual Pig Jam barbecue festival has grown from a few thousand attendees to 20,000 since professional and amateur barbecuers started vying for cash prizes 10 years ago.

But now organizers are wondering whether staying put at the Randy L. Larson Softball Four-Plex off Park Road makes sense. They met with city officials a few months ago in part to brainstorm possible venues.

"It's a great facility, but we're getting to a point where we're running out of room," said Chris Sparkman, chairman of the Pig Jam committee at the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the one-day festival each November.

Adding to the concern, the city is looking to sell or lease Plant City Stadium and the Four-Plex to avoid paying for maintenance.

Last week, officials received a proposal for the 75-acre site from Big League Dreams USA, a California company that hosts youth tournaments and builds replica Major League Baseball ballparks.

"We're just starting to look at that now," City Manager Greg Horwedel said Tuesday.

Any decision about the site won't come until June and likely won't effect this year's Pig Jam, he said.

Regardless, organizers say staying put might not be an option. Growing crowds are one reason. Another is that relocating will enable more and larger activities, vendors and country music acts — ensuring the festival's financial future.

Co-founder Mark Poppell said that given its growth, it might make sense to consider expanding to two days, like other barbecue festivals around the country. A bigger and better venue with more parking could help to make that happen.

"That event is limited only by the size of the venue," he said. "Taking everything into consideration, the teams of vendors and the parking, we're pretty much maxed out."

Chamber officials won't reveal how much the Pig Jam earns, but say the event is its biggest draw of the year.

The chamber earns money off parking concessions at $5 per car and takes a 20 percent cut from vendor sales. Admission is free. Proceeds benefit the chamber's scholarship fund. The 70 barbecue teams compete for $17,000 in prize money under judging by the Kansas City Barbecue Society.

Moving the festival would allow for more vendors and more revenue, further enhancing the chamber. The question officials wrestle with is where to move to.

The Strawberry Festival grounds, given its parking and water and electrical hookups for vendors and RVs, makes the most sense, they say. But even that isn't a slam dunk. Concerns about beer and insurance liability derailed talks between the chamber and Strawberry Festival board a few years ago.

Except for the annual Rotary Club Wild Game Cook-Off and a handful of small evening events, alcohol sales are off-limits at the grounds. Opponents cite insurance and moral concerns.

"A majority of the board members do not want alcohol served there. They don't want it sold in a family atmosphere," said Mayor Mike Sparkman, Chris Sparkman's father and a Strawberry Festival board member.

Pig Jam organizers could drop the beer sales, but beer and barbecue go hand-in-hand for many of the thousands of attendees. At the very least, nixing beer would hurt the bottom line.

"It would be hard to go without it," Chris Sparkman said. "Alcohol is secondary at our event, but it's a big piece of our revenue."

Ron Gainey, immediate past president of the Strawberry Festival board, says the sides should at least sit down again. The Strawberry Festival grounds might be a good choice, particularly if Pig Jam organizers want to add more country music acts and attract bigger crowds.

"We have the facilities to support the continued growth of that event," he said. "We have a perfect situation and I would welcome them to come to the festival. It might be time to re-entertain that idea."

He said the November event doesn't conflict with any Strawberry Festival activities, and the midway area could easily accommodate the crowds and is near parking.

The sides would need to agree on beer sales and insurance liability. Gainey estimated a policy of $6 million in liability coverage would satisfy the board. Beer is another matter. It might be permitted at a beer garden, as it is at the Florida State Fair in Tampa, though even that idea is likely to provoke lengthy debate by board members.

"I personally don't have a problem with beer, but I would lean toward a beer garden than having people walking around drinking beer," he said. "I'd want it contained."

It might be months, or even a year, before any decision is made on whether to move. Whatever happens will be left to the Pig Jam committee and they would likely explore options in addition to the Strawberry Festival grounds, such as downtown Plant City, the Plant City Airport and the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, just west of Plant City off State Road 60 near Sydney Washer Road.

"We can stay here for now," Chris Sparkman said, referring to the Four-Plex. "It's not dire that we move right away, but it's something in the back of our minds. It's something we may have to look at soon."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.

Comments
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 22

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 22

Kendrick Lamar: Hip-hop powerhouse rapper and songwriter will lead The Championship Tour presented by Top Dawg Entertainment with fellow hitmakers from the label like SZA, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Sir, Lance Skiiiwalker and more. 7:30 p.m., M...
Updated: 16 minutes ago

Things to Do in Pasco and Hernando counties starting May 25

FestivalsHarvest Moon Sunflower Maze: The 5-acre sunflower maze features more than 3 miles of twists and turns along with a 70-foot jumping pillow, cow train ride, mineshaft plunge, Wizzer spin and petting farm. Runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays ...
Published: 05/21/18
The young Han Solo movie is here. And letís just say a robot is the best part.

The young Han Solo movie is here. And letís just say a robot is the best part.

Washington PostSolo: A Star Wars Story begins with the Star Wars franchiseís signature tag line, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." But it seems like only yesterday that the title character met his end in The Force Awakens, the first insta...
Published: 05/21/18
Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethovenís Pastoral Symphony

Florida Orchestra closes 50th masterworks season with Beethovenís Pastoral Symphony

TAMPA ó The Florida Orchestra wraps up its final masterworks concert of the season with a masterfully complex Johannes Brahms piano concerto and Ludwig van Beethovenís warmly accessible Symphony No. 6, commonly known as the "Pastoral."Fridayís sold-o...
Published: 05/19/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of May 21-27.

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of May 21-27.

Kendrick Lamar: ThePulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop powerhouse leads The Championship Tour on Tuesday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, with fellow hit makers including SZA and Schoolboy Q. $35-$125. amphitheatretampa.com. Tampa Ba...
Published: 05/18/18
Updated: 05/20/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 20

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 20

Florida Orchestra Masterworks: In the season finale, the orchestra performs Beethovenís Pastoral Symphony, under the direction of Michael Francis and accompanied by pianist Javier Perianes. 7:30 p.m., Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Cle...
Published: 05/18/18
Updated: 05/20/18
The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

om Wolfeís best writing lifted real people into legend: car designers and astronauts and disciples of LSD. With that writing, Wolfe lifted himself into legend as well.The author of 16 books, including such bestsellers as The Right Stuff and The Bonfi...
Published: 05/18/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 19

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 19

Little Steven and the Disciplines of Soul: After gaining notoriety as a guitarist in Bruce Springsteenís E Street Band, Steven Van Zandt went on to have an acting career and recently got the Disciples of Soul back together to record the album of new ...
Published: 05/18/18
I went through 'Jeopardy!' auditions in Tampa, and I have a few questions

I went through 'Jeopardy!' auditions in Tampa, and I have a few questions

TAMPA — What’s it like to audition for Jeopardy!? What kind of questions are you asked? What realms of trivia must you master? How deep into your life should you expect producers to dig? Can you keep your cool with the buzzer in your han...
Published: 05/18/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 18

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for May 18

David Koechner: While his name might not be instantly recognizable, you’ll know his face from his roles as Todd Packer on The Office and Champ Kind from the Anchorman films. He currently stars on the CBS comedy, Superior Donuts. 8 and 10:30 p.m...
Published: 05/17/18