Less than five months after breaking ground, the new community venue site at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is complete.
The unnamed venue, at 5200 Airport Road, will officially be unveiled at the seventh annual Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ & Blues Fest on Jan. 21.
The 14-acre site is situated north of the Zephyrhills’ City Yard, stretching to Airport Road, and backing up the southern boundary of the Lincoln Heights subdivision.
Among the venue’s key features are a 20-by-40 permanent staging area, and 50 vendor spaces that are equipped with water and electricity.
Additionally, the location is able to accommodate up to 15,000 guests at a time, and provide easier access and parking along South Avenue.
Initially spearheaded by Melonie Monson, executive director for The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, the community venue was a collaborative effort among the City of Zephyrhills, the chamber, and several other businesses and organizations.
The Zephyrhills City Council approved the project in March. Construction began in mid-August.
Monson said area citizens will be “shocked” by the new venue’s digs and amenities.
“I really feel excited about it,” the chamber director said. “I am more than thrilled with how this has come together. I just can’t imagine how you would do this is if you didn’t have the community rallying behind you.”
Monson added she was “overwhelmed” by the assistance of various local businesses, which provided funding, fixtures and labor.
Those donations were aplenty.
Florida Hospital Zephyrhills gave $30,000 to build the permanent, covered staging area.
Others businesses — Martin Electric, Sunstate Aluminum, and Bahr’s Propane and Gas — contributed electrical, plumbing and technical guidance on the site.
Supplies and other offerings were also provided by Sonny’s BBQ, E-Z Clean Car Wash, Ferguson Water Works and All Florida Home Manufactured Services.
“We’ve just had a number of people that have stepped up in the community that just said, ‘Sure, we’ll help you,’” Monson explained. “All of these people did this out of the kindness of their heart, and because they love our community.”
Though the chamber inspired the idea for the permanent venue, the site is owned and operated by the City of Zephyrhills, which invested more than $42,000 into the project.
Shane LcBlanc, the city’s public works director, played an instrumental role in completion of the venue’s site work.
Along with a handful of public works staff, LeBlanc built a fencing enclosure. He also installed roads to facilitate event parking, and filled in dirt holes throughout the 14-acre site.
LeBlanc said the undertaking was “a bit of a time crunch,” mainly since the site work coincided with the conclusion of the city’s 2016 fiscal year on Sept. 30.
“We had to work in the budget money to get the fence put in,” LeBlanc said. “It was a little tight timeline, but we’ve got it ready, and I think it’ll be all set for Jan. 21.”
Meanwhile, the Zephyrhills chamber is making some last-minute preparations in advance of Pigz in Z’Hills.
Monson said her staff is currently putting together event signage, and ensuring each of the nearly 50 registered barbecue cook teams are confirmed for the festival.
“We’re working nonstop on this,” Monson said of Pigz in Z’Hills. “We are working with all of our volunteers and all of our different team leaders to make sure everything’s put together the way it needs to be.”
Bob Hartwig, a former Zephyrhills Fire Chief, is now in charge of logistics for the popular barbecue festival. That role previously was handled by Daryl Pennington.
Monson calls Hartwig her “right-hand man.”
She added: “I can’t tell you how much he’s done already. There’s no way we could do this without somebody like him.”
Hartwig’s lengthy experience in public safety, she said, is an added bonus for managing the one-day shindig.
“There’s so much that no one even understands that needs to go into something like this,” Monson explained. “With his experience as a former fire chief, he knows that. He can look at a layout and say, ‘This is good, or this isn’t, and we can work together and figure out the best way.”
Besides Pigz in Z’Hills, the new venue likely will house a variety of events and fundraisers, organized by nonprofits.
Several organizations have expressed interest in using the event site, including the Rotary Club of Zephyrhills, Thomas Promise Foundation, Ride for Hospice and Paulie Palooza.
It’s believed that nonprofits will pay the city a fee to cover the cost of maintenance, performed by the city. Moreover, events may be limited to daytime festivals in order to prevent stage noise from disrupting nearby residential areas.
Steve Spina, Zephyrhills’ city manager, said the new venue is a “positive thing.”
But, Spina noted that managing the site will be a “learning experience.”
“We have to determine how to utilize it,” Spina said, “because every festival is going to take a lot of maintenance.”
The maintenance, in large part, will fall on the shoulders of the public works department.
LeBlanc said maintaining the site is not dissimilar to keeping up the city’s parks.
“We’ll be providing all the maintenance as far as mowing, trimming, herbiciding–that type of stuff,” LeBlanc explained. “We’ll monitor the electric and water, too.”
Published January 11, 2017