St. Pete Pride Festival 2014

St. Pete Pride Festival 2014

St. Pete Pride’s Saturday night parade and Sunday street festival helped set new records as 200,000 people descended upon the city’s Grand Central District the last weekend in June.

A light evening breeze helped keep parade revelers cool and comfortable June 28 as more than 100 lighted floats made their way down Third Avenue North and Central Avenue. Saturday alone brought in an estimated 175,000 people to watch the LGBT community put on its first-ever night parade.

The street festival the following day brought in another 40,000, at least, according to Eric Skains, executive director of St. Pete Pride. And sunny skies lack of rain kept people out in the street throughout the afternoon.

“I never thought it would have gotten so big in just one year,” said Skains, who has been in his position for two years. “We all knew the parade would be up in attendance, but the size of the festival is just over the top.”

And so is the economic impact of the extended festival.

“An event of this scale is huge for the area,” Skains said. “We saw the $10.5 million economic impact with a one-day event. This should easily nearly double that total, and that’s huge for local businesses and the city.”

Restaurants, bars and clubs were packed before and after the Saturday night parade. And some locations were overwhelmed with revelers. Georgie’s Alibi, which was the home of the official St. Pete Pride after party on Saturday night, was filled to capacity and a crowd had to wait outside the parking lot for a chance to enter the bar as others exited.

Changed for good
Change can be scary, especially when it directly impacts a popular event like St. Pete Pride, which began in 2003. But those who attended the night parade seemed thrilled with the new schedule. Largo couple Rebecca Simmons and Sheryl Combs attended the parade and the festival, were excited about the night parade, which brought cooler temperatures.

“We could enjoy ourselves because we weren’t overheated and the creativity of some of these organizations was just incredible!” Simmons said. “It brought a whole new personality and perspective to Pride. I loved it!”

Combs agreed with her girlfriend.

“I’m so happy right now,” Combs said. “The festival isn’t as packed as before, but it’s still really busy. And it feels more family-friendly than before. I have no complaints or criticisms. Everything was perfect.”

Besides the parade taking place at night, another big, noticeable difference was the absence of the traditional, long Pride flag that ended the parade in almost every year prior. The explanation for its absence is simple, according to Skains. It boils down to logistics.

“The barricade prevented it,” Skains explained. “It always relied on attendees to carry it, and that just couldn’t happen. We did have a large rainbow flag lead the parade this year, which isn’t quite the same but still significant as it was the same flag that hung in the City Council Chamber in June.”

It’s also important to note, Skains said, that there were no Pride-related arrests during the weekend of celebration.

“This is huge as it debunked the notion that the night time aspect would draw a rowdier crowd that was unsafe for families and seniors,” Skains said. “We worked really close with the City of St. Petersburg Police and city officials to ensure a safe environment for everyone. We’re glad those efforts paid off.”

There were no reports of emergencies during the parade or street festival, and police reports say only a few people expressed discomfort or minor health issues. No one was sent to area hospitals because of heat exhaustion either day, according to St. Petersburg EMS.

The success of St. Pete Pride 2014 can be contributed to many things, but Skains points at his board of directors and the large team of volunteers as major factors.
“Nearly 400 volunteer shifts and 2,500 volunteer hours went into this one weekend,” Skains explained. “The planning part is easy. They did the real work that made it all possible. I’m so grateful to all of them for their efforts in pulling this event off, and truly wish to work with them all again.”

Photos by Jake Stevens.

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