The ninth St. Pete Pride Promenade steps off in just a couple days. Like many, I’ve been in every one. We’ve watched this wonderfully relaxed and inclusive event grow into the biggest Pride celebration in Florida.
For the first time this year, Watermark is co-producing a major event during St. Pete Pride. There has been confusion and even concern about how that came about, so I want to set the record straight. But first I want to set the scene.
The Promenade starts at Georgie’s Alibi bedrock of LGBT life in St. Petersburg then winds through Historic Kenwood, where smiling children sit on blankets and wave at their colorful neighbors. By the time the endless procession makes it to the Grand Central District, a throng of cheering faces creates an explosion of joyful pride.
The Promenade doesn’t really end; it morphs into the huge Street Festival and some of the best people-watching south of Ptown. But as morning turns to afternoon, pride begins to wilt in the 90-degree heat. Children get fussy. Dogs get plucked off the steaming street. Umbrellas are opened as shields against the sun, and everybody prays for just one dark cloudful of rain.
It’s the hottest many of us will be all year.
St. Pete Pride organizers know this. They do everything they can tents, fans, misters, free ice water and it helps. They’ve even considered moving the event to a shadier location or cooler month, like Orlando’s Come Out With Pride in October.
Defiantly, like the protestors at Stonewall, St. Pete Pride should remain in June. Attendance each year supports this decision. Nonetheless, most attendees succumb to the heat by mid-afternoon.
Many duck into Detours or Queenshead, or head for the invitingly cool confines at Georgie’s, or to the festive pool area at the Flamingo Resort just a few miles south. But most take their pride and head home; a lost opportunity for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.
After St. Pete Pride last year I jumped in a Roser Park neighbors’ pool, then went to the beach with friends. Walking along the Gulf with a refreshing breeze at my back, I thought, Wouldn’t it be great if Pride could just end here. I dismissed the idea as wholly unrealistic until months later, when I discovered the Postcard Inn.
The retro-fabulous 200-room hotel is beautiful, relaxed and funky, with a huge grassy courtyard and the biggest swimming pool on St. Pete Beach. The marketing director used to work at the host hotel for Telluride Gay Ski Week, so she embraced the idea of bringing Pride back to the beach. Postcard’s management and staff matched her enthusiasm.
For years, Watermark produced Beach Ball during Gay Days. But we’ve never done a hotel event before, so I was reassured when Al Ferguson at ALandCHUCK.travel offered to partner with us. Al dubbed the event Fire & Ice Weekend.
We had a good idea and a great venue. But we couldn’t proceed without the blessing and input of the St. Pete Pride board. I was relieved when they welcomed the concept, recognizing that Fire & Ice Weekend will grow St. Pete Pride and attract coveted overnight and out-of-town visitors from across the bay and region.
Since then, respected local LGBT businesses and organizations have become involved or offered support. They include MyQmunity.com, Outings & Adventures, Urban Body, Manny Alvarez Presents, Twirl Girl Productions, TIGLFF, the Krewe of Cavaliers, What’s Happening magazine and GayDayS.com.
But others have expressed understandable concern. Will Fire & Ice Weekend redirect business from valued St. Pete Pride sponsors like Georgie’s and the Flamingo? Will it change the tone of St. Pete Pride from community to circuit event?
Both questions were raised by the St. Pete Pride board, and my answer was the same: I’m certain it won’t.
Georgie’s is the hub of St. Pete Pride; an upbeat and well-run institution with a proven ability to handle big crowds. It will be packed, and it will be fun, all weekend long.
The Flamingo has invested millions to make their property a sexy, multi-faceted destination retreat. It has a large and devoted following, and deservedly so. It is booked to overflowing for St. Pete Pride, and I’m confident that will be the case in the future. It will be packed, and it will be fun, all weekend long.
Gay Days in Orlando demonstrates that major LGBT events tend either to evolve or stagnate. Fire & Ice will fill a void, taking advantage of the nearby beach among the best in the nation to offer a different experience for some of the 80,000 who attend St. Pete Pride each year.
You may laugh, but I have a fantasy. In a year or two shuttles running throughout St. Pete Pride weekend will connect tens of thousands to downtown St. Pete, the Grand Central District, Georgie’s, Gulfport, the Flamingo and the beach. And at the beach, different hotels will appeal to men, women, families, bears and beyond. Everyone, including locals out for a gay day at the beach, will share a beautiful white strip of sand and their pride.