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MADEIRA BEACH – Florida’s largest seafood festival could become a memory after this year

The John’s Pass Village Association has announced that the 37th annual John’s Pass Seafood and Music Festival, to be held from Oct. 25-28, will be the last it will sponsor. Citing costs “that have multiplied five times” over the past five years and a lack of financial support from the city of Madeira Beach, the Association said it “will no longer be putting on the event.”

The Seafood Festival has been a big draw for visitors to John’s Pass Village. An estimated 250,000 attended last year’s festival, which features “musical performances from some of the best local bands, amazing seafood, local businesses and craft vendors,” according to the Village Association.

But costs have risen, along with charges from the city. The association’s announcement said no fees for the festival were charged by the city of Madeira Beach before 2017. But this year, the city’s fees were estimated at $42,000. The city agreed to waive $30,000 in parking, leaving $12,000 due.

Sonny Flynn, John’s Pass Village Association president and chair of the Seafood Festival said, “John’s Pass Seafood Festival cannot continue without the support of the city of Madeira Beach. The current administration and commission delayed approval of the event to the point of this year nearly not occurring. We can’t risk that loss in the future.”

The city’s stance on the festival was explained by Finance Director Walter Pierce at a City Commission meeting in March. Pierce said the festival lost money for the city. Around $5,000 was collected for the festival’s producers to cover the direct costs associated with it, but the city gave up nearly $20,000 in parking revenue during the event, he said.

At that meeting, Commissioner Terry Lister, who was defeated in his bid for re-election, had spoken in favor of the city’s support for the festival.

More than an event’s cost needs to be looked at when considering its value to the city, Lister said.

“A lot of goodwill comes to the city from events such as the seafood festival,” he said.

City Manager Jonathan Evans agreed that Lister made a good point. The positive impact of city events extends beyond their actual costs, he said. The city gets money from the bed tax on hotel stays, and the hotels and motels, restaurants, shops and services benefit from increased business.

But commission members have said events should not cost the city.

“I want to see the city at least break even on events, and not cost the taxpayers anything,” has been the position of Commissioner Nancy Oakley.

Mayor Maggi Black said, “I want to see what the revenue is, and what this is costing us.”

The city’s final agreement to waive parking fees was not enough for the festival’s operators to continue the event.

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City officials say they are committed to continuing the John’s Pass Seafood Festival despite the John’s Pass Village Association deciding not to continue to sponsor it.

“A general increase in fees is to be expected over time with the event’s growing attendance, but the rate at which the costs increased no longer allows for the mission and goals of the event to occur,” the Festival Association’s announcement said.

City wants festival to continue

In a press release issued Oct. 5, Evans said the city is committed to continuing the festival.

“Through the years, including this year, the city has consistently and enthusiastically worked with the organizers of the Seafood Festival to ensure this immensely popular event goes as smoothly as possible,” said Evans. “We remain committed to the Seafood Festival and look forward to doing whatever we can to make sure this event happens each and every year in Madeira Beach.”

Oakley said the festival will continue, despite the Village Association’s pullout as its sponsor. On Oct. 7, she called the report of the festival’s ending “totally untrue.”

“Sonny (Flynn) does not want to do it anymore. But we will get a new promoter,” Oakley said. “We are not stopping it. We will have it next year.”

“The city is going to have the seafood festival forever,” Oakley said.

Commissioner Nancy Hodges said Oct. 7 she was “very disappointed” to see the announcement of the festival’s ending.

“For 30-plus years, it has been one of the biggest draws we have,” she said. “Sonny did a great job of putting it together.”

Hodges said she appreciates Evans’ commitment to seeing the festival continue, but she is “not optimistic another promoter would want to come in and take it over without any experience.”

“I’m heartbroken that this will be the last one,” Hodges said.