Lakeland’s annual classic car show may be running out of gas. That is unless a new sponsor can be found for the three-day October event, which appears to be a difficult task.
The show first graced Lake Mirror 20 years ago. It was started by Heacock Insurance Group founder Ford Heacock as the Lake Mirror Classic Auto Festival. Heacock is retired.
But MidFlorida is bowing out. “While Lakeland continues to serve as the headquarters for MidFlorida, recent expansion to be nearly statewide has caused the need to deploy resources differently, preventing us from devoting the considerable employee labor required throughout the year to host this event,” a recent post on the car show’s Facebook page said.
The yearly event is attended by thousands of people who appreciate the coolness of classic cars. It’s held on the Lake Mirror Promenade and on the downtown streets closest to the lake.
It may be difficult to find another sponsor, said Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority. She said she’s trying to do so, but it’s expensive and time consuming to put on the show. “It’s insurance and police” and a lot of things, she said.
But Townsend said it’s something that enhances the downtown and it’s profile and she wants it to stay. The show brings visitors downtown to eat, stay in hotels, and visit stores, Townsend said.
She said the city’s charm rubs off on the visitors and many come back. “It brings people to Lakeland that otherwise wouldn’t come,’ she said.
Townsend said she knows the LDDA won’t sponsor the show and she doubts the city would do it.
Heacock said he understands that MidFlorida had to make a tough business decision. “They realized it can be a manpower drain; this is like running a convention.” he said.
Heacock said the car show was rewarding to him. “I made hundreds of friends and made thousands of memories,” he said.
Tip Franklin, a longtime member of the Deep South Cobra classic car team, said he loves the Lakeland show and doesn’t want to see it die. He said he has seen as many as 500 cars in the show.
Other car shows in Florida are first-class promotions, particularly in Brandon and Daytona Beach, he said, adding that he forwarded the names of some other promoters to Townsend so she can question them.
The cost of hosting an event event is steep, but there is one way to cut deeply into the cost, Franklin said: “Instead of a three-day event, make it one day.”