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Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Traffic still a problem, but strawberry festival makes another successful run

PLANT CITY — The annual celebration of the strawberry harvest is all over but the cleanup.

Across the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds Monday, crews were dismantling carnival rides and food booths. Vendors were packing unsold merchandise and heading for the next destination.

“We’ve been coming to the festival for seven years and this was one of the best,” said Tammy Fulk, who operates a booth called Country Homemade with her husband Randy. “Weather was just about perfect, except for the rain on Thursday.”

By most accounts, the festival that ended Sunday went well. Security problems were nil — no arrests and only a couple of ejections. But the festival continued to have trouble keeping traffic flowing on busy days.

Final attendance figures won’t be ready for another day or so but the count could rival last year’s 526,500 attendance, said festival General Manager Paul Davis.

Vendors say the pleasant conditions during most of the 11-day festival helped keep business humming.

“All in all, we had a good run,” said Shelby Bender, president of the East Hillsborough Historical Society, one of the festival’s three shortcake vendors.

Overall, the booth’s sales were up 12 percent compared with 2013, due in part to a 50 cent per bowl price increase for shortcake.

Davis said traffic jams continue to be an issue, particularly at the Thonotosassa Road exit on Interstate 4, and the roads surrounding the festival grounds. The festival took measures to ease conditions this year, including providing more parking spaces and allowing traffic on Oak Avenue, in front of the main gate.

But traffic continued to back up at the interchange at times and the operators of some privately-run parking lots around the festival grounds did a poor job of getting cars into their lots, Davis said.

“They had cars sticking out in the road waiting to get in (to the lots) and so they were blocking the other traffic,” he said.

Ultimately, the festival has the challenge of accommodating a huge number of cars on a limited number of roads. Davis said festival officials will try to move traffic more smoothly next year, including by working with private parking lot owners.

“Traffic is one of the things we’ll be looking at for ways to improve,” Davis said. “It was better than last year but we’re not there yet.”

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