Strawberries weren’t the only draw for thousands of people filling the streets of Plant City on the last weekend of the Florida Strawberry Festival. Back-to-back headliner concerts brought in both a collective of fans — and a collective of collisions.
In all, 10 minor accidents occurred during the festival. On March 10, a crash involving five cars on the Alexander Street westbound exit ramp resulted in minor injuries. Later that night, a DUI hit-and-run occurred on Baker Street close to Lemon Street.
Not only did the Sunday crashes bottleneck traffic, but also the sheer amount of cars on the road added to the congestion. On March 9, more than 88,000 tickets were scanned, breaking a record. But that total was topped the next day, when about 99,000 tickets were scanned. The numbers don’t include those on the grounds volunteering, media and employees.
General Manager Paul Davis believes headline entertainment caused the influx of attendees.
“We did have some traffic issues, and we apologize for that,” Davis said. “We had two back-to-back shows. People were trying to leave the earlier show while others were coming for the late show.”
The shows on Sunday — Hunter Hayes at 3:30 p.m. and Blake Shelton with special guest Michaela Paige at 7:30 p.m. — were sold out, including the back stands, which hold thousands more of additional first-come, first-serve seating.
“We were pleasantly surprised Hunter sold out,” Davis said. “He’s a good performer and a nice person. He was thrilled to have a packed house to perform for.”
To alleviate traffic concerns, the festival is looking at scheduling bigger acts on different days. Officials also formed a traffic committee, which will meet with local law-enforcement agencies and those who open parking lots around the grounds. During the festival, a crew flew over Plant City to document which roads were congested for future planning.
U.S. 92 was backed up because of parking on many days. Some congestion can’t be planned, however. On one day, an accident on Martin Luther King Jr. blocked that thoroughfare and, by extension, the south entrance of the festival.
“We’ve got to give credit to those working the gates and all the police and law enforcement that are out there every day,” Davis said.
In addition to the popularity of the headliners, Davis believes the sunny, warm weather during the last weekend was a big draw. During the first weekend, the temperatures were milder and windy. About 60,000 people came to the festival March 3, compared to 99,000 the following Sunday.
“We really finished out strong,” Davis said. “Thank goodness everyone got in and out safely. It turned out to be a success.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.