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For more than 30 years, the annual John’s Pass Seafood Festival has been a destination for thousands of visitors from across the country. That tradition remains intact with the announcement that the 39th annual Seafood Festival will be rescheduled for Friday-Sunday, Jan. 22-24.

MADEIRA BEACH — The John’s Pass Seafood Festival is the area’s most popular event, normally drawing thousands of visitors to the Village for its three-day run in October. This year it is being moved to January, due mostly to COVID-19 concerns.

The City Commission discussed the move, and whether January was the best time to hold it, at its Aug. 26 workshop.

Commissioner John Douthirt said the Seafood Festival was started in the 1980s to bring more people to John’s Pass Village in the fall, which was normally a slow time of year. Now they’re moving it to January, which Douthirt said is “the peak of the tourist season.” Douthirt said he would favor moving the festival to May, which he said was a slower season.

Commissioner Nancy Hodges said January is actually “a very slow month in the Pass.” Hodges said she had talked with a lot of people and they said doing it in January was a good idea, since it would bring people to John’s Pass during a slow month. “COVID has been tough for John’s Pass,” she said. Many of the shops there are still closed, and others are struggling.

“I get the impression it’s a slow time. And having the Seafood Festival in January will keep it going until next October,” said Hodges.

That view was shared by Commissioner Doug Andrews, who said moving the Seafood Festival to January was a good move. He said September and January were “by far the slowest months” for the convenience store he owns in Madeira Beach. The intention is to keep it in October in the future, Andrews said.

Recreation Director Jay Hatch said the Seafood Festival was moved to January at the request of the John’s Pass Merchants Association.

“They had already sold out on vendors, and were ready to go with the normal October date when the pandemic hit,” he said. The intent of moving it to January was “to keep everybody on the hook and not have to cancel the festival, to keep the tradition alive and keep the event going during the uncertainty of COVID-19,” Hatch said.

The organizers will see how it goes, Hatch said, and either go back to the normal October date in the future, or if January goes well, the date could be reevaluated. He said the January date also offered an opportunity to tie in to the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa.

Andrews said, “This is a last ditch save effort. They are going to try to do it, but it may not happen based on what’s going on.” If the pandemic is still a concern in January, the event would likely be canceled and the focus would shift to next year’s event in October, Andrews said.

In February, the commission agreed to a three-year contract that would keep the Seafood Festival at John’s Pass Village at least through 2023. It was the first multiyear agreement in the festival’s 40-year history, and came as the city gets ready to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2022.