Those heading to downtown Ocoee for Founders’ Day this weekend might notice that the venue looks a little different this year.
As part of the city’s ongoing Lakefront Park improvements project, the park area has been revamped over the last year. Just in time for the Founders’ Day Festival, phase one of the project is nearing completion.
The Lakefront Park project is part of the city’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area, and the project is being conducted in three phases. Ocoee residents and visitors alike will have a chance to see what’s been going on over the last year when they head over to the festival.
The city has removed some existing driveways, walkways and buildings. New restrooms, pedestrian pathways and improvements to both parking and the park grounds have been done as well.
“It’s been a thing that we planned on with the citizens back a couple years ago,” Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson said. “And we’re finally getting to the point where it’s going to be finished here in the next month. It’s pretty much wrapping up right now, except for a couple things we’ll have to go back and do after Founders’ Day. We’ve pretty much got the Lakeshore Center open. We’re in the process of that happening, with state-of-the-art new stuff. The Withers-Maguire House, we planted way more shrubbery and hedges and new trees and all that stuff that fits in with what the old-time picture was like.”
The field and concert area will look and feel different, too. The city completely renovated the park, removing all the weeds, leveling the ground and putting in new, healthy grass. Landscaping, lights and sidewalks all add to the new-and-improved atmosphere. Johnson added that for all three phases it was estimated to be a total five-year buildout, and the city is close to halfway through.
“It’s been a year (for the park), and … everybody works around getting through the process,” he said. “We’re finally at the end of the process, thank goodness. We redid down by the lake with the sidewalk on the front down there, with easy access for handicapped up to the Lakeshore Center. ...It’s really looking good.
“They’ll see there’s a lot of difference in the way it’s set up,” Johnson said. “It’s just a different venue in the way it looks and how it’s set up. I think it’s great, myself. They’re going to be really be surprised when they get here this year and see what’s going down on the lake.”
In Ocoee, it wouldn’t be the Founders’ Day Festival citizens have come to know and love without the top-notch entertainment — and it’s all free.
The whole weekend is packed full of entertainment, which includes a classic car show, Chick-Fil-A 5K and kids fun run, fishing tournament, marketplace arts and crafts vendors, poker tournament and a fireworks show on Saturday night.
“It’s a great weekend for people to be able to come out, take their kids, walk around the park, walk around the different functions and enjoy being with their family in a beautiful setting down on the lake,” Johnson said.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws, though, is the free concerts from top-notch entertainers. It’s also a bonus to be able to bring people in from across Orlando to see what is happening in Ocoee.
“We’ve had Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Pat Benatar — we’ve had all those people that came here and people didn’t have to pay,” Johnson said. “If you go to their concerts you’ll pay $300 to $400. You bring people into town that’s never been to Ocoee a lot of times and they see the place, maybe some of them move here. You get them to come in here and see things, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We’ve had a lot of them that will come back, call us and say, ‘Hey, we really loved coming to Ocoee.’ That’s what you want to do.”
This year’s lineup, too, has had people buzzing since it was announced. Friday’s performances feature Spayed Koolie, Noel and Ben Haggard and The Cadillac Three. On Saturday, attendees will get to hear from Sam Riggs, Jimmie Allen and LANCO. Then there are two of the biggest names of the weekend — Justin Moore and Chris Young.
Moore has made a name for himself at the top of the country charts for a few years now and just released his fifth studio album, “Late Nights and Longnecks,” this past summer. He is best known for songs such as “Small Town USA,” “Somebody Else Will,” “You Look Like I Need A Drink” and his most recent single, “The Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home.”
Young boasts 11 No. 1 singles, two Grammy nominations, 12 million singles sold and four Academy of Country Music nominations. He has produced seven studio albums in 12 years and is best known for his songs “Hangin’ On,” “Think Of You,” “I’m Comin’ Over” and his most recent single, “Raised On Country.”
“You have to have somebody that brings the people in, no matter what kind of music you play,” Johnson said. “(I love) having citizens and people able to come into town and see what we do in our city and be able to come to a free concert. They can sit with their family, kids or neighbors and watch a top-of-the-line concert. We get to show the city off. I’m proud of it.”
Ocoee Founders’ Day Festival