Strawberry Festival promises grand views from new grandstand

- The Florida Strawberry Festival is steeped in tradition, but they've unveiled a big new improvement that they say is aimed at making new memories. It's a 10,500-seat grandstand, especially engineered for good acoustics, and much closer to the stage than the old cement bleachers built in 1950. 

"If you look at the stage from where I'm sitting, this is going to be the best seat in the house," boasted festival president Paul Davis. 

Davis says the grandstand is the centerpiece of a $5-million improvement project that saw the demolition of the old bleachers and a vendor area underneath. 

However, some structures on the festival grounds, including former armory built by the WPA in the 1930s, will likely be here forever. 

"This is a rock building and the rock came from the Hillsborough River,” explained board member and former Plant City mayor Mike Sparkman. 

Sparkman and his friend Gary Boothe, also a board member, served in the National Guard together at the armory and attended the festival as children. It was started in 1930 by the Lion's Club and has been held every year since except during World War II. 

Boothe helped choose the design for the new grandstand. 

"It is going to be a great venue with prices that are unbelievably reasonable compared to other events around this area," he insisted. 

This year's Strawberry Festival runs from March 1 through March 11, and Reba McEntire will be among the first entertainers to perform in front of the new grandstand March 4 at 7:30 p.m. 

Other entertainers include Earth, Wind and Fire, Josh Turner, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Trace Adkins. 

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