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Ocala
Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Parking, traffic, and an underwhelming drone show: Ocalan suggests changes to improve next year’s event

Dear Editor,

Like many others, I was looking forward to the highly anticipated Fourth of July drone event. Having seen amazing drone shows elsewhere, I had high hopes for this one. Despite the weather concerns, my wife and I were relieved to see it clear up enough for the show to proceed.

Initially, I was pleased to see advertised parking options, thinking we could avoid the inevitable gridlock around the park. We chose the County Courthouse parking facility, only to find it closed and locked up. Strike one. We ended up parking in an adjacent lot and found the shuttle stop, which dropped us off in front of the Skate Park on NE 9th St, across from the Arts Center.

Navigating through the throng of people, we found the food trucks and were dismayed to see only 5 or 6 food vendors, plus a couple of drink stands. The vendors were lined up too close together, forcing people to queue up and wind around each other in long, meandering lines. One vendor was already sold out and closed. We selected our food not by preference but by choosing the shortest line, which still took us over an hour of standing in the heat and humidity. This was particularly disappointing given the high turnout and the expectation of enjoying a festive atmosphere with ample refreshments.

Finally, at 9:30 p.m., we found a piece of grass near the baseball field. Advertising had promoted the show starting at around 9:45 p.m., so we thought we had 15 minutes to eat. However, the show started early, just as we sat down. I hadn’t even opened my food yet.

Determined to enjoy the show, I resigned myself to eating cold food later. To my surprise, the barely 10-minute underwhelming show ended quickly, allowing me to eat my still-hot food. I actually said to my wife, “Is that it? Half a dozen static images in the sky?”

Parking and traffic management were also major issues. We walked back to the shuttle stop, only to find dozens of people waiting for a shuttle that holds perhaps 25 people. On top of that, the shuttle was caught up in the same gridlock we were hoping to avoid. Like many others, my wife and I decided to hike the 1.4 miles to our car, through a not-so-good part of town. Thirty minutes later, we reached our vehicle, sweating and tired, vowing never to attend this event again.

Organizers really dropped the ball on this event. Here are some suggestions for improvement:

  • The drones could have been augmented with fireworks.
  • The drone show could have been longer.
  • The music could have been louder; we couldn’t hear the orchestra at all from where we were sitting due to the cacophony of speakers at the food vendors.
  • Food vendors should have been instructed to kill their music during the show.
  • There should have been more food vendors to accommodate the crowd.
  • If you’re advertising parking available at the garage, it should be open.
  • Shuttle stops should be placed away from the middle of the parking lot where everyone is trying to leave at once. NE Watula Ave, completely blocked to traffic from NE 9th St to NE 3rd St, would have been a perfect place for shuttles to drop off and pick up passengers and get back out on NE 3rd St, avoiding the gridlock. Simple.

I hope organizers can use these suggestions. I know I wasn’t the only unhappy camper that evening.

I believe that our community deserves better planning and execution for such a significant event. The Fourth of July is a time for celebration, unity, and creating lasting memories. I hope that the organizers will take this feedback seriously and work towards improving future events to ensure they meet the expectations of our community.

Thank you for considering my concerns. I look forward to seeing positive changes in the planning and execution of our future celebrations.

Sincerely,
Ken Sanders
Ocala