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County billboards promote Cedar Key

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Cedar Key and Levy County will get a high profile boost with tourists along Interstate 75 in Gainesville during what is typically a slow season.

Carol McQueen has been in negotiations to design billboards that tout the county’s attractions to people traveling through Gainesville.

The Levy County Commission approved spending $9,928 for four billboards, two on the east side of the highway and two on the west side, for six months, that would tell tourists to take State Road 24 which leads to Bronson and Cedar Key, or State Road 121 which leads to Williston and points south in the county, to “Discover Your Next Adventure in Levy County.”

The theme will be “Florida's 'Other' Keys” and it will be designed to draw tourists to discover Levy County.

The idea for the billboards first came up more than two years ago in a meeting between Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce President Andrea Dennison, McQueen and County Commission Chairman Ryan Bell. The estimate was $10,000 for one set of billboards on I-75 at that time, but the request came during the year and McQueen said money was not available, according to one person in the meeting. But Bell, who also sits on the Tourism Development Council, which recommends how the 2 cent bed tax collections are spent, has pushed the idea of trying the billboard approach.

The billboards are expected to go up soon, when there is normally a lull in tourism due to school starting and snowbirds’ later arrival.

McQueen told the commissioners it is a propitious time because the billboards will be up in time for a six-week visit, starting in September, by the Smithsonian Institution exhibit “The Way We Worked.”

The exhibit is a boon for Cedar Key because it is one of only six cities in Florida to host it, it is the only one hosting it in 2014, and there will be activities tied to it every weekend in Cedar Key, she said.

She said the exhibit will be in Cedar Key for the 2nd annual Cedar Key Pirate Invasion on Sept. 12-14 when residents and visitors can live out their pirate fantasies.

The Smithsonian exhibit will also close in time for the island’s popular 45th annual Seafood Festival the weekend of Oct. 18-19. The event usually packs the town with visitors while local non-profit groups prepare and sell seafood as fundraisers and others sell their arts and crafts.

The Smithsonian Institute exhibit, “The Way We Worked” is part of its “Museum on Main Street” program. Cedar Key Historical Society President Ken Young said at an earlier announcement of the exhibit that the historical society, in conjunction with other groups, has been trying to get the exhibit in the area for a couple of years.

“This is really a good opportunity for us to get out in the foreground,” Young said.

The exhibit is part of the Smithsonian’s effort to engage small-town audiences and draw attention to the often-overlooked histories and cultures in those areas.

Young said the fact that the exhibit will be coming in September is a good thing, economically, because that time of year happens to be the slowest in terms of tourism for Cedar Key.

The exhibit portion of the temporary museum, which is free to the public, will be located on the second floor of the Cedar Key Public Library and will focus on how the workforce in the area helped shape culture during the last 150 years.

At the same time, the Levy County Historical Society and the Ocala Model Railroad Restoration Society will take part in an exhibit Sept. 26, 27 and 28 at the Cedar Key Community Center called “Railroads and Riverboats.”

Some information in this story came from an earlier one by Mark Scohier.