De Soto Seafood Festival makes smooth transition to Palmetto

myoung@bradenton.comApril 8, 2014 

PALMETTO -- When describing the De Soto Historical Society's decision to move the annual De Soto Seafood Festival from Bradenton to Palmetto, two concepts apply: changeover and metamorphosis.

The obvious is the changing of locations, but the less known -- until now -- was metamorphosis.

By all accounts the transition into Palmetto's Sutton Park area was not only smooth, but the festival operated like a well-oiled machine, as Palmetto business owners and residents, for the most part, never felt an overwhelming impact from the estimated 30,000 festival goers this past weekend. The festival underwent a complete transformation from its years in downtown Bradenton.

"Festival organizers told me that this was the easiest set up they've had in the last 30 years," said new North River Fire District Chief Michael Rampino, whose firefighters alongside Palmetto Police Department officers assisted in the set up designed to ensure safety and security concerns were being addressed.

Rampino, who was hired in February, was introduced to the Palmetto City Commission Monday night. He moved to Palemtto after 28 years as public safety director for Hernando

County.

While traffic had become a concern with the festival being in the Riverwalk area of Bradenton, according to Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, residents have had no public complaints thus far about three days of seafood, music and fun in Palmetto.

"We didn't experience any traffic backups on the Eighth Avenue Corridor, as opposed to when it was in Bradenton," she said.

Linda Erwin, manager of the Kostas Family Restaurant, 1631 Eighth Ave. W. in Palmetto, agreed.

"We had a lot of concern when they started discussing bringing the festival here," said Erwin. "We've only been open for about a year and I wasn't sure coming from Bradenton that I would be able to get to the restaurant on those days, but as it turned out, it wasn't a problem at all."

While increased vehicle traffic concerns were alleviated, foot traffic into Kostas proved to be an unexpected benefit considering the festival itself was devoted to seafood served up from a variety of vendors on the grounds.

"It actually helped," said Erwin. "Sunday in particular was our best day and we probably had around 100 new customers."

Erwin said the festival appeared to go smoothly from her vantage point from nearby Sutton Park.

"People had a lot more room to walk around than when it was in Bradenton," she said. "I've heard nothing but complimentary things about it."

Whether it hurt or helped local businesses depends on who you ask. Justin Weaver, manager of the nearby Hungry Howie's Pizza, 1705 Eighth Ave. W. and about a hop, skip and a jump away from Kostos felt a different impact.

"It did take away from business, especially on Friday and Saturday where we were down about $1,500 each day," said Weaver. "Things kind of got back to normal on Sunday, but we absolutely support having the festival here. It's a small sacrifice to pay to have something here that is so great for the community as a whole."

Organizers said it will be days before they can take a full account of how many people attended and how much money has been raised to benefit local charities. Calls to De Soto Historical Society President Joe Fenton went unreturned as of Herald press time and other members of the society referred all comments to him.

The De Soto Historical Society is a nonprofit organization that conducts some of the biggest events in Manatee County. Besides the seafood festival, the organization puts on the De Soto Heritage Festival, Children's Parade and Party in the Park, De Soto Ball, Music and Fashion Show, De Soto Fishing Tournament, as well as it's next event on April 12 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Palma Sola Causeway where attendees can watch the annual Bottle Boat Regatta.

This event features various teams designing exotic boats with the only requirement being it floats on plastic bottles.

The organization raises funds to help support many charities such as Lighthouse of Manasota, Adopt-A-Family, Toys for Tots, Boys and Girls Club of Manatee County and Manasota Operation Troop Support. To learn more, visit www.desotohq.com.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him @urbanmark2014.

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