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Clearwater making changes to Blast Friday

CLEARWATER — Blast Friday is getting big.

The monthly street fair on downtown's Cleveland Street is drawing up to 6,000 people for free concerts headlined by acts like Molly Hatchet, Candlebox and Dave Mason.

Starting tonight, there are three Blast Fridays left until the event shuts down for the summer. City leaders are asking organizers to move the city-funded event around on Cleveland Street during the next few months to see which location works best.

They also want to know whether it would be worth closing Fort Harrison Avenue during Blast Fridays to keep the family-friendly event growing.

Tonight's concert is at the usual location — Cleveland Street at Osceola Avenue, next to the Capitol Theatre. That's where Ruth Eckerd Hall usually has held these concerts since it began managing Blast Fridays for the city.

April's concert may be moved two blocks to the east, to Cleveland at Garden Avenue.

May's concert will likely be held at Cleveland and Fort Harrison Avenue. The city wants to test closing the intersection and detouring traffic around the event.

The city has spent $125,000 per year on Blast Friday for the past three years to promote downtown. The money comes from property taxes generated downtown in the city's Community Redevelopment Area. The event also has vendors, food, contests and activities.

The City Council recently decided to chip in another $1,000 to pay for traffic control during May's closure of Fort Harrison Avenue. The city also will pay a few thousand dollars to upgrade the power supply at the Fort Harrison-Cleveland intersection so concerts can be staged there.

It did so at the suggestion of council member Jay Polglaze, who wants the concerts moved from their current spot at the west end of Cleveland Street.

Blast Friday was intended "to benefit the entire downtown," said Polglaze, who used to help set up Blast Fridays as a volunteer when the event was produced by the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. "Currently, it's just benefiting the 400 block, for the most part."

The idea of blocking off Fort Harrison got mixed reviews.

"I support us closing Fort Harrison," said council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito. "I'm confident that we're going to see this grow to an unbelievable event, and I think you're going to need Fort Harrison to do that."

"I've never been wild about closing Fort Harrison," Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said. "Closing Fort Harrison's a big deal on a Friday. It's a big deal."

Jeffrey Hartzog, operations director for Ruth Eckerd Hall, said organizers would need extra money for traffic control and the power upgrade at Fort Harrison.

Polglaze had suggested holding the next three concerts at Cleveland and Fort Harrison, but the council compromised by holding only May's concert there, to see how it goes.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

. If you go

Blast Friday lineup

Tonight's Blast Friday in downtown Clearwater features the country-rock sounds of Pure Prairie League. (See Diversions on Page 7 for details.)

Firefall will perform at Blast Friday on April 26 and the Fixx on May 31.

Clearwater making changes to Blast Friday 03/28/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 28, 2013 7:48pm]
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