Florida Blueberry Festival gaining momentum

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BROOKSVILLE – More than 24 million people across the country will hear about the Florida Blueberry Festival in the coming weeks, said Festival Coordinator and City Ambassador Michael Heard during Monday’s City Council meeting.
Florida Blueberry Festival gaining momentum
Haley Wright of Spring Hill hawks fresh fried blueberry pies during the 2013 festival. FILE

That’s about 8 million more than last year. Heard said the television, radio and magazine ads are the main reason why the city needed to approve about $35,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the third annual festival.

“That’s why we need your support financially. I know it’s hard for all of us, times are tough,” Heard said. “I think there are very very great things in our future if we stay steady on our path.”

The city previously set aside $20,000 for the Blueberry Festival when they passed the 2014 budget, with the caveat that festival organizers had to come back and ask for approval.

The city ultimately moved to approved the $20,000 cash donation, as well as in-kind donations of a City Hall office space valued at $3,000 a year; police, fire and public works during the event for nearly $12,000 and nearly $400 in fees waivers for a kick-off planned on April 5.

Before voting, Council members Joe Bernardini and Joe Johnston said they had issues with the donation exceeding $20,000.

Bernardini said he had no problem with the $20,000 donation, but said the additional contributions were “unfair” – especially since the county donations totaled about $28,000.

“Even though we’re holding the event, the event is in our city, the event is in this county, that doesn’t seem like that’s a fair shake, but that’s just my opinion,” Bernardini said, explaining the county’s roughly 180,000 residents far exceeds Brooksville’s population of about 7,000.

Johnston said he opposed the total price tag because the cash contribution was not supposed to be ongoing, but that he didn’t have a problem with the fee waivers and police and fire services. Heard said the 2013 festival raised more than $39,000, and about $5,000 of that money went back to the Brooksville Vision Foundation.

“We started the Blueberry Festival for one reason and one reason only, and that was to be able to feed the Brooksville Vision Foundation with money to try to help with the revitalization of the city,” Heard said. “We’re projecting to give them a lot more this year.”

Heard also said the festival is spending about $209,000 on marketing the festival this year.

“That’s a lot going out this year with Brooksville’s name on it.”

City Council voted 3-2 to approve the festival funds.

In a February letter sent to City Council, Heard said the 2013 festival had a $1.8 million economic impact, and sales revenue increased by more than $311,000.

The Florida Blueberry Festival will be held on April 12-13. A kick-off event is scheduled for April 5. Jefferson and Broad streets between Lemon Street and Bell Avenue will be closed for the weekend.

Heard said this year the event has “condensed” and moved slightly north to make the site more accessible. New events planned this year include a coloring contest sent to all area schools for the chance for students to win free entry.

Also planned are a putting challenge to benefit the First Tee program and a market featuring fresh produce from Florida farmers.

Heard said about seven blueberry marketers are backing the festival with donations, and the grower’s association is taking a “hard look” at the city for their permanent home.

Also planned are a Monster Truck and car show and concerts by BlackHawk, the Outlaws and other bands.

More information on the festival is available at https://www.florida blueberryfestival.org.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday .com