MANATEE -- A letter sent to a Rubonia church informing it the street it is on will be closed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday during the 35th annual Rubonia-Terra Ceia Mardi Gras festival has caused some concern and anger.
The letter sent to the Rev. Danny Thomas of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church from Charles Miller Jr., president of the Rubonia/Terra Ceia Mardi Gras Inc., states there will be "no parking at the church parking lot" starting at 8 a.m. Sunday due to the closure this year of a section of 72nd Street Court East in Rubonia.
The letter also says: "Church members and residents will be able to enter with identification, listing a Rubonia address, or attending church services."
But even though provision has been made for the church members to go down their street this year, Miller said he has been on the receiving end of some hard feelings.
"They are aiming their anger at me and trying to put me on the spot," Miller said Tuesday. "We would never stop anyone from going to church. But they are holding my feet to the fire. It's an ar
gument, and I happen to be the guy in charge."
Several calls to Thomas for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office routinely closes a section of Bayshore Road from 69th Street Court to the crossover of Interstate 275 for the massive festival in the Bayshore Road area, which features ethnic food and music, parade floats and people in costumes.
But 72nd Street Court East had not been closed before this year.
"We have to follow the rules and regulations of the sheriff's office and, at an early meeting with us, they described a chronic problem of people congregating in the general area of the church parking lot on 72nd Street Court East and strongly suggested we reroute traffic," said Wayne Douglas, 56, a Rubonia native who will be directing floats this year. "The Manatee County EMS also mandated that we keep that area clear."
Traffic from 72nd Street Court East will be rerouted to 72nd Street East, Douglas said.
Douglas said he had heard of the discontent but thinks most hard feelings are being worked out between church and event leaders.
"I think they had more concern they would not have access to their church and the answer is, of course they will have access," Douglas said. "I think the majority of the misunderstanding has all been cleared up."
The Mardi Gras began 35 years ago as a birthday celebration for Rubonia native Luann Topp . This year, between 30 and 50 floats will be cruising, Miller said.
A total of 15,000 fans are expected to be led by Grand Marshal Loyd "Butch" Glasgow, owner of USA Fence Co., Miller said.
"Butch is one of our strongest supporters," Miller said. "USA Fence supplies all the railings and garbage cans."
Trying to describe the Rubonia Mardi Gras is difficult.
"It's a homegrown birthday party that turned into an annual event," Douglas said. "People who go will get a taste of all the different ethnic foods, floats and rides. People who have left the area like to come back and have reunions every Mardi Gras."
"I grew up in the event," said Miller, who was the first king chosen. "It's a tradition for us. Every kid in the community wants to ride in the community float."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.