A new, free trolley service is up and running in downtown Sanford, and it’s the perfect way to peruse the city’s always-hopping street festival scene
In just the past few years, Sanford has quietly turned into a street-party mecca. And for those who like to leave their car behind, the scene is sweeter than ever. A charming trolley now ferries passengers throughout the downtown district, and a second trolley may be in the works.
Meanwhile, a growing number of events have partnered with the city to close off downtown streets for their parties, leading to a relaxed and festive atmosphere that encourages visitors to frequent multiple bars, restaurants, and stores.
“People in Sanford love to see each other out and about,” says resident Shelly Allen. “That’s the kind of culture we have.”
The 45-seat trolley has carried more than 8,000 riders since it made its debut in October, with an average of 500 riders per week. The trolley, which is rented by the city, makes hourly rounds throughout Sanford’s historic district and includes stops at the Amtrak Auto Train station and Sanford SunRail depot. It runs every day but Sunday, and service hours vary during the week. During the summer months, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is added to the route.
The trolley fits in beautifully with the downtown character, says Lisa Holder, the city’s communications officer.
“You can clearly see people like to come to Sanford,” Lisa says. “We have a great backdrop, and First Street is so pleasing to the eye. And if you turn toward Lake Monroe, you can see the water, the sailboats, the marina. It’s majestic.”
The idea of a trolley grew out of a shuttle van that began taking passengers at the Auto Train to and from downtown Sanford in 2009. The notion was that passengers could get a bite to eat downtown while waiting for their car to be loaded on the train.
The trolley replaced the van, but the idea remains the same. Trolley riders can even park their luggage at the Historic Sanford Welcome Center on First Street while they visit downtown diners serving up everything from bratwurst to falafel to steaming barbecue.
The historic district was relatively sleepy back in 2009. Today, it seems that every time you turn around, a new sign is plastered throughout downtown announcing a new event.
Five years ago, the city had a list of roughly 50 regular Sanford festivals, street parties, and other events. Today, that number stands at 200 and is growing, says Sonia Fonseca, economic development project manager for the city.
Even when streets are closed, the trolley can drop you off just a block away from the action. But Sonia acknowledges that more frequent runs would be ideal for visitors. Accordingly, the city is applying for a state grant to allow the rental of a second trolley.
The hope, Sonia says, is that one trolley could stay in the immediate downtown area, increasing the frequency of stops from every hour to every half-hour. The second trolley, meanwhile, could make stops at the train station, SunRail, Seminole Towne Center, Central Florida Regional Hospital, and the Orlando Sanford International Airport.
Until then, the city plans to install trolley-stop signs this spring, which will help publicize this free, pet-friendly, and festive transportation.
Although people can park at the SunRail station or at the Seminole County Services Building on Mellonville Avenue, city officials stress that finding a parking spot in the heart of downtown is not that difficult, even during special events.
“The whole point is for people to know that this is a walkable town,” Lisa says.
Many street events are partnerships between downtown businesses and the city. In some cases merchants pay the city to cover the cost of closing streets, hiring off-duty police officers, erecting signs, and doing the cleanup afterward. But the city sometimes helps cover such costs.
The Sanford Avenue Block Party, for example, obtained an approximately $9,000 grant from the city last fall to pay for its event, which is held the third Saturday of every month.
One of the appeals of street closures is that beer, wine, and cocktail enthusiasts can carry their beverage around, says organizer Robyn Esser of the Sanford Brewing Company.
“People like to be able to wander around with a cup without worrying about being run over,” Robyn says with a grin. “It’s kind of like you’re getting away with something.”
That does not mean street parties are rowdy events, she says. In fact, the Sanford Avenue Block Party is quite kid-friendly with a bounce house, face painting, and other activities.
The city’s party scene is getting so busy, this year’s block party ran into a conflict with the hugely popular Pints n’ Paws annual craft beer festival, sponsored by downtown breweries West End Trading Company and Celery City Craft. The March 24 festival, where beer lovers and dog lovers can revel downtown, is entering its seventh year. Last year, it drew well over 10,000 participants, says organizer Paul Williams.
Just for this month, the Sanford Avenue Block Party will move to the previous Saturday, which happens to be St. Patrick’s Day.
“I’m really happy to be part of this community,” Robyn says. “It’s really exciting.”
And if you want to be a part of all the fun, don’t forget to hop on the trolley!
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