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John's Pass Seafood Festival kicks off this weekend with questions over its future

Posted at 12:52 PM, Oct 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 17:19:05-04

MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. — The John's Pass Seafood Festival is back this weekend at Madeira Beach and is expected to bring in a quarter million people.

The event, which is celebrating its 37th year, hopes to bolster businesses badly impacted by red tide. Some have been forced to lay off employees or cut hours over the past several months after red tide scared away visitors from the boardwalk. 

The four-day festival is one of the largest of its kind in Florida and throughout the country.

Yet, this could be the last year for the popular festival. Disputes over parking revenue and whether the organizers of the festival should pay the city for lost parking money have become a sticking point. 

Friday, City Manager Jonathan Evans told ABC Action News he hopes the event will continue and the city plans to find a way to continue the festivities in the future. 

Normally, the city charges $2 an hour for cars parked in the 239 parking spaces in John’s Pass, John’s Pass Park and on 132nd Avenue.

Some city commissioners have said the four-day festival causes the city to lose $19,738 in parking fees. 

This year, the city's fees that they asked the festival organizers to pay was around $42,000. The city agreed to waive $30,000 in parking fees, leaving $12,000 due.

Sonny Flynn, John's Pass Village Association President and Chair of the Seafood Festival says she is still negotiating with city leaders about the possibility of keeping the festival around but “only if we can get city commissioners on board,” she added.

City commissioners have said in past meetings that they believe events should not cost the city.

This weekend’s John’s Pass Seafood Festival will feature food from more than 20 seafood vendors, nearly 50 arts and craft vendors, live music and an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records' record for the largest bloody mary toast (Sunday at 1 pm).

Parking is available at several locations including on the Tom Stuart Causeway (150th Avenue), on Gulf Blvd., as well as the John’s Pass Village Parking Garage. Valet parking is available in John’s Pass Park/South Beach on the west side of Gulf Blvd. across from the 129th Ave. entrance to John’s Pass Village (this location is also a public drop off and pick up site). Additional parking is available at Winn Dixie, 15200 Municipal Dr., Tom Stuart Shops, Tom Stuart Causeway, and Archibald Park, 15100 Gulf Blvd. Jolly Trolley will service these locations from noon to midnight Friday – Sunday. 

“The Seafood Festival kicks off tourist season and is our first chance to introduce new visitors to our community,” said City of Madeira Beach Mayor, Maggi Black said. 

"We have been impacted negatively by red tide and now we are pleading with visitors to come and support our local businesses and enjoy these unique festivities," Evans explained.

ABC Action News also asked organizers about the safety of the seafood at the festival, as the red tide continues to linger off Pinellas County's coast. According to organizers, the seafood is closely vetted and is coming from areas that have not been impacted by the toxic bloom. Organizers say the seafood is "100 percent safe to eat."