ST. PETERSBURG — When the alternative rock band Hoobastank takes the stage at Williams Park this month, it will mark the first time a nationally known group plays there.
In its heyday, politicians and regional performers regularly visited the downtown park. But with Hoobastank, "Last Friday," the monthly concert series that began last month in the park, has booked its first big act.
To kick things off, the band's performance on Jan. 30 will be preceded by a long-awaited tree-lighting ceremony in the park.
"This is not about a concert; it's about a kickoff for downtown," said Kevin Lilly Jr., of LiveAlive Productions, co-founder of the concert series. "The goal is to bring back that town square element."
Did he mention beer? There will be plenty of it at the Hoobastank concert, as it is co-sponsored by Miller Lite. It is also being sponsored by radio station WSUN-FM 97.1.
While the event remains free to the public, this time tickets are required for entry. Tickets are available at several locations listed at www.97xonline.com and www.lastfridayconcerts.com. Already, more than 5,000 tickets have been distributed, though 10,000 tickets are being printed, organizers say.
At 6 p.m., Mayor Rick Baker will ceremoniously flick the switch on tiny lights on 30 trees in the park. The lighting, sponsored by Progress Energy, took months to plan and was long awaited by the group Friends of Williams Park, which came up with the idea to increase safety and appeal of the park.
Last month's Last Friday concert was a success, said Lilly. Though it was held a day after Christmas, 1,000 people attended, 35 VIP tickets sold at $50 each, and about $3,500 was raised for three charities that the concerts support, he said.
"It was very inspiring to see people buying VIP tickets to be in Williams Park," said Lilly, acknowledging that the park has in recent years gained a reputation as a magnet for panhandlers, the homeless and drug dealers.
It is that image that the Friends of Williams Park, an offshoot of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, is trying to combat. Although the Wednesday Midday Market may not have had much success — its future is now in question after all but six vendors bailed out — the Last Friday concert series, along with Art in the Park on Saturday, is being touted as an example of what works for Williams Park.
Lilly said he has obtained yearlong commitments from vendors and has established a plan to book three or four national acts at the park this year. Next month, a regional act will perform, and the theme will be Mardi Gras, he said.
At a meeting last week to discuss ways to use the park as a hub for the city's growing art scene, Ann Wykel, the city's art coordinator, presented a slide show of examples of "functional art" in the nation's parks. They included concrete-slab chess tables in New York City and mosaic-lined benches in Tampa. Future meetings will lay out a vision of what is needed, said Marilyn Olsen, president of the neighborhood group.
Among the 30 people at the meeting was Maria H. Rawls, a general contractor with Harvard Jolly architects and granddaughter of William B. Harvard, the noted architect who designed the Pier and the Municipal Pavilion and Bandstand in Williams Park.
Rawls said her family was deeply interested in the future of the park.
News researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or [email protected]