We’re less than a week away from Plant City’s largest event and the city has some advice for both local residents and visitors.
In exactly one week, Plant City will be flooded with hundreds of thousands of visitors as the town reforms for the annual Florida Strawberry Festival and the city has some “professional advice” for both local residents and visitors coming to town.
“As you know, we’ve been doing this for a very long time and we’re well-rehearsed at it,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “Every department in the city pretty much plays a role: police, fire, solid waste, utilities, building, code enforcement, everyone has something to do. We’re just geared up with our normal plans and ready to provide the services that are needed for a successful festival.”
Plant City natives know just how massive an undertaking the 11-day event truly is. There are two giant parades that shut down traffic for hours, legendary talent pouring in to perform, elaborate agriculture shows and of course the regular stresses of hosting a fair the size of the Strawberry Festival and keeping attendees safe and roads relatively clear.
“From our perspective, law enforcement, we of course invite everyone to come out and make memories, but there are things people can do to enhance their enjoyment and stay safe during these 11 days,” PCPD Spokesman Sgt. Al Van Duyne said. “The way law enforcement is configured for the event is HCSO takes over everything inside and PCPD handles the traffic coming in and everything that happens outside the festival.”
If something occurs inside the festival stay inside the grounds and locate an HCSO deputy and they will help you with everything from finding a dropped wallet to locating a missing child.
Parking is always one of the largest hurdles. The festival only has so much designated parking. Once the lots fill the continuous flow of incoming traffic parks in yards of nearby homes or the lots of local businesses. Too often, visitors get confused and wave down an officer to help them find their car.
If you park at a home, make sure you’re paying the actual homeowner and not just some random person with a sign.
If you attempt to park on the side of the road, Walgreens, South Florida Baptist Hospital or any other business that is not using its lot for festival parking, you will be towed.
As for the homes themselves, Van Duyne recommends taking photos of not only the house, but also the nearest street signs so if you get turned around in the festival and end up leaving though a different exit you can still find your car.
“I can’t tell you how many times our officers have had to stop what they’re doing to help someone find a car and they’ve said things like, ‘Oh that Walgreens looks familiar,’ and then an hour and a half later our officer finally finds the vehicle all the way on the other side of the festival,” Van Duyne said. “Just make a note of where you parked so that even if you can’t find it we can quickly determine where you are so we aren’t wasting hours helping you locate it.”
Getting into the festival is a nightmare as well.
“My pro-tip for anyone coming to the festival is to come from the south, take 60 or 574 to get to the festival instead of the interstate,” McDaniel said. “You’ll find the traveling much easier and you’ll get to the gates and the parking with less delays and backups.”
On Feb. 25, PCPD will be at Tomlin Middle School to begin the pick-up and drop-off changes as school uses much of its land as parking for the festival. Parents are asked to be patient and pay attention to the changes.
“Up to this point we’ve never had issues with citizens parking at schools,” Van Duyne said. “Students that are out there are working with parents or staff that volunteer. The procedures to secure the school from unwanted visitors are still in place. Fences are up, you still have to check in with ID through the front office, nothing changes.”
The officers are all pulling extra hours to ensure the city is safe and the rest of town doesn’t see a change in their calls of service response time while the officers secure the area near the festival.
Van Duyne said festival goers need to check the weather and be prepared for the heat or cold.
Every year someone doesn’t stay hydrated or will donate blood at the bloodmobile to get free tickets, not take care of themselves and end up in the back of an ambulance at the gates.
If you use common sense and come prepared you shouldn’t have a problem.
Stay up to date with any road closures — especially around parades — and any other potential updates by following PCPD’s social media sites.
“We definitely want people to be safe and vigilant,” Van Duyne said. “The mantra ‘see something, say something’ is adopted nation wide and it still holds true here. Yes there are a lot of officers inside the festival and in the surrounding areas, but the thousands of extra eyes can really make a difference. No tip is too small, nothing is too ridiculous. Call our non-emergency line or find an officer and let us determine if it’s an issue.”