Wesley Chapel Rotary cancels annual Freedom Festival

Crowds too large for venue
Posted at 5:53 PM, Jun 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 17:53:26-04

Freedom Festival is a hugely popular Fourth of July celebration in Wesley Chapel. Last year, it drew 55,000 visitors to the shops at Wiregrass, including Madison Remaley and her family.


"There were concerts and contests. They had people out selling stuff, like popcorn. It was just a whole bunch of fun," Remaley said.


But the sheer size of Freedom Fest became a problem.


"We outgrew the location. We just got too big, too fast," said Wesley Chapel Rotary Club incoming president Dr. Pablo Rivera.


Traffic and parking were some of the biggest concerns. Last year, off-site parking didn't help.


"We had people running across Bruce B. Downs in the dark, and there's now street lights for the most part. So it became a bit of a safety issue for the mall itself and for us," Rivera said.


In a statement, the Shops at Wiregrass said:

"Unfortunately, due to the continued growth and success of the event, it became realized that we simply did not have enough on-site parking to accommodate the vast crowds that were beginning to attend the event..Because the safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority, we had to make the painful decision to decline hosting the event moving forward based on these safety concerns."

The Rotary Club checked out other possible sites but couldn't get an agreement on paper in time to save this year's Freedom Fest.


"Wesley Chapel's growing so fast. We have so many new homes and roads and communities growing. I don't see a problem finding a place for next year. I just think it'll take a little more prep, that's all," said Rivera.


Not only are a lot of families bummed the fest isn't happening next month, the Rotary Club will miss out on the $25,000 Freedom Fest raised. The majority of that money went to support local veterans groups. So now, the club is looking at other options.


"We have to consider how we're going to get some funding back to the veterans. If we come up with another event or festival or product we can put together that's a very good product, we're going to move forward with that," said Rivera.

As for celebrating the Fourth of July, neighboring communities including Lutz and New Tampa do have events planned.