ST. PETERSBURG -The St. Pete Pride board officially voted to relocate the Pride parade and festival from the Grand Central District to Vinoy Park downtown Jan. 17.
The board vote, which was unanimous with one abstention, was met with a wave of resistance on social media from Grand Central business owners and members of the community; however one criticism is leaving a deeper sting, that of St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman.
Kriseman took to Facebook Jan. 18 with an announcement that if St. Pete Pride pulled out of the Grand Central District then city funding for Pride’s parade and festival would be pulled.
“As a signature annual event, St. Pete Pride receives $45,000 from the City of St. Petersburg to assist with its parade and festival,” the Facebook post reads.”Today, Mayor Rick Kriseman has informed St. Pete Pride that he is unwilling to provide this contribution in 2017 if the organization proceeds with relocating the parade from the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association and Grand Central District Association to downtown. St. Pete Pride may continue with its plan to relocate the parade, but will not be eligible for city funding.”
The pulling of the $45,000 of city funding was a surprise to St. Pete Pride executive director Eric Skains. Skains says that Pride and the mayor’s office emailed about the funding that morning.
“We emailed back and forth, but before we even had a chance to create a dialogue, that’s when the mayor’s Facebook post went out,” Skains says. “So we were aware that they wanted to do this but we thought it was let’s circle back and talk about this and in fact it was an absolute no from the city.”
In prior years, St. Pete Pride and the City of St. Petersburg had a contract that stipulated the parade and festival must remain in the Grand Central District, but that contract ended in 2016. The board and mayor’s office have been in negotiations for a new contract. The draft from the mayor’s office had no location requirements.
“The mayor has known for a while about St. Pete Pride’s interest to move downtown,” says Kevin King, Kriseman’s Chief of Staff. “The city typically doesn’t dictate where an organization holds a parade or festival so the mayor, while disappointed in them leaving one part of the city to go to another, he indicated that he would work with them on their move.”
King says that the mayor’s office agreed to the move because the parade’s staging area, which has been the empty lot next to Metro Wellness and across from where Georgie’s Alibi was located, would not be available to use for Pride. King says that the city verified that the lot would be usable this year.
“In addition to that there was an outpouring of support and protest in the community of businesses up and down the Kenwood, Grand Central areas really wanting them to stay put,” King says.
Skains says that the staging of the parade is not the only concern with keeping Pride in Grand Central. Two of the biggest concerns are cost and safety.
Skains says when Pride moved to a nighttime parade a few years back the city stated that additional safety measures needed to be met including adding in barricades and a larger police presence.
“That’s what [the city] funding was earmarked for originally, so it has nothing to do with whether the event is in Grand Central or downtown, it went specifically for those barricade costs and additional policing costs. So without that Pride will have to pick up those costs, and one of the reasons for wanting to move downtown was to eliminate some of those production costs.”
Skains says another safety concern the board has is the width of the parade route.
“It’s very narrow,” Skains says. “It’s only 20 feet from barricade to barricade. That doesn’t leave a lot of room if any kind of incidents should happen along the parade route, or if one of the trucks breaks down where does it go. We want to be able to widen that all out.”
A meeting is set between St. Pete Pride and the mayor’s office to discuss the funding. Both sides are confident they can reach a compromise that will benefit both sides.
“This is what happens in a growing city,” King says. “But we are confident that we will find some common ground.”