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    Jays construction cancels Oktoberfest

    Dunedin officials were unsuccessful in finding an alternate venue for the three-day festival.

    By LEON M. TUCKER

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 11, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- This year's Oktoberfest is kaput.

    The popular three-day event that brings oompah bands, lederhosen and beer to Dunedin's Grant Field has been canceled this year.

    Construction on the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training facility on S Douglas Avenue has taken up much of the space the festival needs to be a success, Dunedin officials say.

    "We thought up until a fairly short time ago that the construction at the Blue Jays facility wouldn't get out into the parking lot," said Harry Gross, leisure services director. "It just looked like if we tried to do it, it would create a liability situation."

    First observed in 1810 as a wedding reception in Munich, Germany, the Bavarian festival is celebrated throughout the world in late September and early October.

    The weekend event, scheduled for Oct. 12-14, was expected to attract as many as 25,000 people who come to drink beer and sample knockwurst, bratwurst, sauerbraten, strudel and red cabbage with apples.

    Festivalgoers have enjoyed carnival rides and games as well as art and craft booths and a 3-mile Volkswalk.

    But heavy construction machinery, including a backhoe, roared Monday as it carved out chunks of the stadium parking lot -- a clear indicator that there would be no festival.

    Gross, whose office organizes the event, said he considered moving it but was unsuccessful in finding a suitable venue.

    Highlander Park, Dunedin Middle School and Dunedin High were options; but the park does not have adequate kitchen facilities, and the schools do not allow alcohol on the premises.

    Another attempt at salvaging the festival called for the closing of Douglas Avenue and moving part of the event to the street. But officials with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Dunedin Fire Department advised against it, citing traffic concerns.

    Gross then recommended to City Manager John Lawrence to put the celebration off until next year.

    Lawrence agreed.

    "The main concern was if we found a place we could fit in, it might be such a second-rate operation that people would say, "That's the last time I'll go to that Oktoberfest,' " Lawrence said. "We want to do it right."

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