TREASURE ISLAND — The highly anticipated Sand Sculpture event scheduled to coincide with the Republican National Convention in August is off — or at least it was Tuesday night.
That was when Chamber of Commerce Director Harry Black sharply criticized the city's staff for sabotaging the chamber's efforts and announced the event's financial sponsor had withdrawn his support.
"I can tell you without a doubt there is no going back on it. The sponsor has pulled this. He will not reconsider. He is not going to do it. The resistance we had was just too much," Black said.
But as of Friday, Black said he is now renegotiating with city officials and is "hopeful" the event may go on.
The event's financial backer — entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Edwards — could not be reached for comment, but previously told the commission that the event would bring the "eyes of the world" to Treasure Island.
Edwards owns the Club at Treasure Island and is president of the city's Chamber of Commerce, which was set to be the official event sponsor. He also is chief executive of Mortgage Investors Corp., operates recording, touring and promotional companies (Big3 Entertainment LLC and Bill Edwards Presents), owns two Treasure Island hotels, the Garden restaurant, recently purchased the BayWalk complex in St. Petersburg, and manages and pledged to donate millions to the Mahaffey Theater, also in St. Petersburg.
The sand sculpture event was first announced in July by the chamber.
The sculptures would be up to 40 feet tall and enclosed in tents to protect them from the weather. The sculptures would depict historic buildings in Washington, D.C., and include water fountains, a reflecting pool, foliage and colorful lighting.
Black said Edwards was prepared to put his own money into producing the event, but backed out when costs estimated by city officials appeared to escalate.
"The city manager and police chief used this opportunity to badger us with unreasonable requests, gouge us for additional funds, choke us with red tape, spike our internal costs, invent new concerns out of the thin blue air and ultimately kill a project that was in our entire community's best interest," Black said.
Both City Manager Reid Silverboard and police Chief Tim Casey denied they were trying to block the event and said their actions were only in the "best interests" of the city to ensure that taxpayers were not left with a large bill.
Black said the chamber expected to pay up to $350,000 to put on the event, a cost that would be at least partially offset by entry fees collected from people viewing the sand sculptures.
The commission was set to approve its participation in the event at its meeting Tuesday, but a staff report prepared for Silverboard estimated the city's portion of the costs, mainly for police security, could range up to $190,000.
The city wanted the chamber to guarantee those costs would be covered.
"These never-ending requests are ridiculous," Black told the commission. The greed of this city is unbelievable and unacceptable."
Friday, Black said he has "cooled off" and is making progress in talking with the city.
Commissioner Phil Collins, who is the commission's representative to the Chamber, met with Black after Tuesday's meeting and will meet again with him Monday to reach a compromise.