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Second Blueberry Festival in the works

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:07 PM

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Clear your calendar for the first weekend in May as organizers announced plans for the second annual Florida Blueberry Festival.

Festival President/Coordinator Michael Heard said those who attend next year's event can expect blueberries to be more easily found, a kickoff day a week prior to the festival weekend, larger car and motorcycle shows and larger children's play areas.

There will also be no more "blueberry bucks," which attendees had to purchase with real money and then use for the food vendors, children's games and other similar events.

Heard said organizers have begun planning their budget for the second annual blueberry festival slated for Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6, in downtown Brooksville.

During Monday's city council meeting, she told council members that last May's event helped bring in $369,000 in additional sales tax that was reported that month.

Overall, she said the three-day festival's economic impact is believed to be more than $1.7 million.

She said little money was made from the event. Organizers took in $564,000 — most of which went various nonprofit organizations, while the group kept $2,000 to $4,000 to put on next year's event.

City council member Joe Bernardini said that while he agrees the festival was good for the city, the council has yet to learn how much the city spent to help organizers put on the event.

"I thought we were finally going to get some numbers on what it cost overall to put on this event," Bernardini said. "I would like to know how much it cost taxpayers in city services to put this on."

Heard said she would compile that data and added that while costs could be calculated, what couldn't is how much the city, retailers and others benefited from the event's national exposure that brought an estimated 40,000 to downtown Brooksville throughout the weekend.

That also doesn't include the five community development contracts the city received because of the festival, she added.

"Whatever your costs, you more than made up for that," Heard said.

Following the meeting, Bernardini said he isn't against the festival and reiterated that it's important for officials to keep track of costs to taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Heard said festival organizers learned a lot from putting on the blueberry festival this year and hope to avoid problems for next year, such as the challenges they faced weeks prior to the festival with garnering approval to close down roads.

She said roughly $67,000 was also lost on busing from the different parking areas and added that likely one bus would be used while blueberries — which critics said were in short supply this year — would be made easier to find.

"This was our first time putting on the event, so obviously there was a learning curve," Heard said. "But what we were able to accomplish was phenomenal. Already we have vendors signing on and saying they will be back for next year."

* * * * *

In other business, city council members chose Julia Jinkins as Great Brooksvillian. She was nominated for her volunteer work during the past 40 years, which includes the Blueberry Festival, selling concessions at Hernando High School and helping at the former Tangerine Drop event during New Year's. (352) 544-5271

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