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Spurned festival lets eye wander

Knights in shining armor, maidens and fire eaters might be decamping from Largo Central Park and trekking to Pasco County.

The Bay Area Renaissance Festival is considering seven sites as a potential new home. One is the Concourse, 217 acres at Hays Road and State Road 52 in the Shady Hills area of west central Pasco. The 23-year-old festival is held over six weekends beginning in mid March.

Largo city commissioners canceled the festival's contract in April to make way for a new library on adjacent property in Largo Central Park. Mid America Festivals Corp., which runs the event, filed a lawsuit challenging that decision. The matter is still in litigation.

Jim Peterson, organizer of the Renaissance Festival, said Wednesday that he hopes the event can remain in Largo one more year. He said talks about a new site are preliminary, but he is considering six other sites outside Pasco. He declined to disclose those sites.

According to Peterson, the festival draws 90,000 people annually and has a $9-million economic impact on the area in which it is held.

Largo City Manager Steven Stanton was not surprised to hear that Peterson was scouting out new property in Pasco.

"This is not news," Stanton said. "Mr. Peterson has conveyed that he has been looking for alternate sites for Largo for almost five years. I have no reason to believe he is not continuing to look for alternative sites."

Stanton said Wednesday he had yet to hear Peterson say he wants to drop his breach of contract suit and called his talk of a new site "premature."

"We have not been advised that he would desire to discontinue his litigation to stay where he is," Stanton said. "We have not been advised otherwise. I suspect that all of this site discussion is somewhat premature, because he has always been in the mode of looking for alternative sites."

In Pasco, Jim Wilcox, president of the Concourse Council, which owns the property, contacted Peterson after he heard the festival was looking for a new home.

"I just thought it would be a perfect use of the area," he said. "As much as I want this for Pasco I hope that it's something that will bring people from out of state and put heads in beds."

Wilcox, Peterson and Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri toured the Concourse on Saturday. They identified a site in the northeast part of the property, which has 25 acres of parking nearby.

Peterson said Wednesday that the Concourse property was appealing because of its access, wooded areas and parking.

The property, which Alric Pottberg bequeathed to the council two decades ago, has for the most part been lying dormant. The council leases 6 acres to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and has a nature center on the site.

_ Michael Sandler contributed to this report. Jennifer Goldblatt covers business in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is goldblattsptimes.com.

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