ENGLEWOOD – Before powerboats race by Englewood Beach this November, the area’s inaugural WaterFest will already be more than a month underway
The four-day-long race weekend will be preceded by an EcoFest at Lemon Bay Park, a stand-up-paddle-board race in Intracoastal waters and an open-air music festival and block party on Dearborn Street.
“We wanted to do a monthlong event so that we could showcase multiple water-related activities in Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Elaine Miller, president of the Englewood Beach WaterFest Committee and the Englewood Florida Chamber of Commerce. “We’re looking to showcase the area as a multi-faceted eco-tourist destination.”
The nonprofit Englewood Beach WaterFest Committee was formed last year after Charlotte County commissioners voted not to renew funding for the Charlotte Harbor Super Boat Grand Prix, which held its inaugural event in April 2014.
Held during high season, that event did not generate the economic impact that organizers envisioned. It drew only half its expected 40,000 to 50,000 visitors.
Miller said she does not want to draw comparisons between the two events, but she expects turnout at WaterFest’s race weekend to exceed 50,000 people because of its November date.
“We’re looking to have the businesses be able to better prosper by bringing in business to the area that wouldn’t normally be here at that time of year,” she said.
WaterFest will be Englewood-centric, Miller said. More than 40 local businesses, nonprofits and organizations have pledged to sponsor the events.
“Any profit that we would garner from this event will go right back to the community,” Miller said. “We’re looking to the community to support us and we will support them back.”
Ken Stead, general manager of Cape Haze Marina in Englewood and a WaterFest Committee member, said he was impressed the committee had garnered the support of the Charlotte Harbor Visitor and Convention Bureau, Visit Sarasota and Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation.
“It’s hard to lose that county line and get government resources to cross that line,” he said. “We have different governments’ agencies working together to help Englewood, and that’s very refreshing.”
WaterFest starts Oct. 16 with the first of four outdoor movie nights held on the Old Englewood Village green. It culminates on Nov. 18 with the start of the Offshore Powerboat Association and American Power Boat Association World Championships.
“On the low side we’re expecting 45 boats,” said Dee Ungarten, communications director for OPA Racing. “We’re definitely expecting the extreme boats like the Miss GEICO.”
A concert featuring country music artist Keith Anderson is also scheduled at the Englewood Event Center for Nov. 21.
Miller said she hoped attendees leave WaterFest with memories of not only high-speed races, but also the area’s serene backdrop.
“One of the main goals is to erase the county lines and celebrate Englewood,” she said. “Part of the attraction of the Englewood is its natural unspoiled beauty, so to be able to promote it as an eco-destination as well as something as exciting and commercialized as a powerboat race, we need to be able to strike that balance in the community.”