Strong opinions about maintaining tradition from Mayor Gene Whitfield and Council President Alan Knight appears to have saved the 2022 Founder’s Day Parade.
During Monday’s Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, members of city council heard a presentation from Devin Alexander, Main Street Zephyrhills Promotion Committee Chair, who explained the Main Street Board’s thought process that led to the decision of cancelling the March 5 parade.
The annual parade celebrates the founding of Abbott Station, now Zephyrhills. Alexander explained it was decided by the Main Street Board to take the parade off the schedule to keep two major Zephyrhills events, Pigz N Z’Hills BBQ and Blue and Founder’s Day from battling for sponsor funding and city resources.
Knight and Whitfield were the most vocal and supportive to have Main Street find a way to bring the parade back and Alexander assured the parade will happen, but it will not be March 5 as originally planned.
Tentative ideas are aiming to have the parade in April or May. It may also have a different look as an evening parade as opposed to a morning event. The Main Street Board will meet in the next week and Alexander will report back to the members of city council Feb. 14 with a new plan.
“History is too valuable to lose,” Mayor Whitfield said. “I know we’re just talking about this year, but we were out last year because of COVID. If we don’t carry on tradition, then we have nothing to pass on to our children.
“This is a 79-year-old tradition. I suggest we leave the date open and look to have something in April or May. We will have the resources we need. I don’t see why we can’t do a different date.”
CRA President Jodi Wilkeson is in favor of the idea of the parade in March with assistance from other civic and social organizations.
“We’re willing to go back to the drawing board and we’ll look at alternative dates,” Alexander said. “I think the big concern we have is getting the potential participants in the parade. If we get to a point where w have 10 or so entries, we’ll have evaluate if it worth closing the roads down.
“We’ll make our strongest effort to reach out to as many folks across the community to make it happen. We don’t want to halfway do something.”
Knight, a traditionalist, rides proudly in the parades and has attended the event for decades.
“I am not in favor of getting rid of the parade,” said Knight. “If Main Street says we’re not having a parade, we don’t have any say in it?
“We solution is to relook at it and reschedule it. I would see nothing wrong with it in March April. Don’t’ get away from Founder’s Day tradition after 80 years.”
Alexander made sure Knight and Whitfield can rest easy.
“I assure you we’ll make it happen,” Alexander said.
Whitfield feels the city needs to stand up for Founders’ Day, the celebration of the founding of the community.
“For the City of Zephyrhills not to support its Founder’s Day Parade doesn’t make any sense to me,” Whitfield said. “If anything in the city has to be done away with, Founder’s Day should not be it.”
Alexander and Main Street welcomes ideas and volunteers to make the revived parade a success.
“As a board, we want everybody to know that if you have an idea or opinion, let us know,” Alexander said. “We pride ourselves in being very transparent.”
City Council member Ken Burgess thanked Alexander, the Main Street Board and the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce for working together in supporting one another.
Burgess and Councilman Lance Smith noted that attendance for the parade and events after the parade has steadily declined.
The Zephyrhills Free Press story that ran last week announcing the Main Street Board’s decision to cancel parade saw a lot of feedback on social media, most of which disagreed with cancelling the event.
“People who want to complain about not having the parade need to pitch in and help,” Smith said. “Hopefully they are invested enough to come out and help you.”
CRA President Jodi Wilkeson pointed out that the city does not provide funding to Main Street. It provides an employee and important resources for events.
“If we have the parade, perhaps we just make a decision that this is not going to be a money-maker and we’re not going to ask food trucks to come,” said Wilkeson. “It may be a parade with a majority of just city trucks, but the reality is getting those folks from the parks and whoever makes the floats – that takes a lot of work.”