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Safety Harbor may host new jazz event

The Safety Harbor Seafood Festival, which for eight years has drawn thousands of people to the city's marina for food and fun, is no more.

But now city and Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce officials are exploring a possible partnership with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in hopes of producing a musical festival to take its place next year.

"We would like to have a weekend jazz and blues festival because (March) is already a much anticipated time," said Anne Neil Piccone, executive director of the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. "We would love to have (the Jazz Holiday) name and their expertise on the event, but it is still in the beginning stages."

The Jazz Holiday's executive director, Karen Vann, would not discuss specifics concerning meetings she has had with Piccone and Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino, but she said she is hopeful a partnership will work.

"We have hoped to take the Clearwater Jazz Holiday year-round anyway because it would be great for us to have a second festival," said Vann. "It would be an ideal situation for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday to team up with Safety Harbor and the chamber to do some kind of event."

In April, Vann asked Clearwater to double the $25,000 the city already gives to the Jazz Holiday as a co-sponsor to bring in a popular headliner act. She said she hoped to motivate other major sponsors to follow the city's lead and donate more money.

Vann sees more money as a way to improve the festival's international status.

And while Vann expects the fall series to attract about 100,000 fans, a second jazz festival in Safety Harbor would mean more exposure for Jazz Holiday and another event for music lovers.

"Our mailing list, Web site and expertise in pricing artists would be a tremendous draw for Safety Harbor," she said.

This year's Jazz Holiday event is scheduled for Oct. 18-21 at Clearwater's Coachman Park.

Lois Spencer, who has arranged the seafood festival since 1994, said she decided that this past March's event would be her last.

"I just don't have the desire to start all over and reinvent the wheel," said the 70-year-old, who organized the two-day event through her company, United Productions. "It was really a fun thing to build and watch grow. I just don't feel comfortable with the next step."

Spencer cited the new $700,000 Marina Park redevelopment project as her main reason for stepping down. After the renovation, which will add a veterans memorial and fountain, Spencer fears the park would not hold the festival, which attracts more than 10,000 people.

"We did the work, we took the risks and we returned 25 percent to the city," she said. "When that game plan didn't seen viable anymore, it was time to quit."

The seafood festival was popular with residents in and around Safety Harbor because it not only offered those who came a chance to sample an array seafood dishes, but a portion of the proceeds benefitted city residents.

The Safety Harbor youth scholarship fund, for example, received 6.25 percent of the profits. The city's fireworks fund also got 6.25 percent, and the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History took in 12.5 percent of festival proceeds.

It is not known if such causes will continue to benefit from festival proceeds if a deal is reached with the Clearwater Jazz Holiday.

"We do depend on them," said Betty Quibell, director of the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History. "I don't have any control over what the city does with their events, but obviously we appreciate the benefits we've had from it."