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St. Petersburg officials weren't aware of payment promised to film festival

ST. PETERSBURG — Organizers of the city's inaugural and much-anticipated BLUE Ocean Film Festival were looking for more than just a nice proclamation when they went before the City Council last week.

They also were expecting a check.

Unbeknownst to current city leaders, the last administration promised more than just the use of some city facilities for the festival, considered one of the world's largest environmental documentary film events.

The city also pledged three $25,000 cash sponsorships over the next six years, according to a Sept. 9 letter by former marketing director Beth Heredeen, who left the city after the November mayoral election.

Former Mayor Bill Foster was copied on the letter, sent to BLUE Ocean founder and CEO Debbie Kinder.

Problem is, that money didn't make it into this year's budget, and City Council members and the new administration only recently found out about it.

"No one said anything about this at all," council member Wengay Newton said during the meeting. "This is the first time I heard about it."

Mayor Rick Kriseman told the council he plans to honor the pledge. He said the potential international exposure for the city is great.

"I think it's important for the community" Kriseman said. "This is a unique event. … It's a really big deal."

Until now, BLUE Ocean, which will come here Nov. 3-9, had been held in California.

The plan now is for it to take place in St. Petersburg in even-numbered years and in Monaco in odd-numbered ones. It has been a pet project of Monaco's Prince Albert II.

The festival is considered a huge get for the Tampa Bay area, especially St. Petersburg.

Besides films, the event also will feature a conservation summit, a conference for scientists and photographers, and a youth outreach component.

It's also a homecoming of sorts for Kinder, who lives in the area and raised her family here.

Kinder said that when the festival's organizers were considering moving here, they took into consideration the financial support they would lose by leaving Monterey, Calif.

One of the things her board wanted was assurance that officials here would support it, too.

Kinder said she understands the council's concerns. She told them the money would be used to bring speakers and make sure the event is a success.

"I think we all got caught in a little bit of a surprising situation," Kinder said. "We thought it was approved and more of just a formality."

With Kriseman pledging to put the money in next year's budget, festival officials will still be able to get their money — just not as early as they hoped. If the council approves the funds in September, Kinder could pick up the check in October.

"Ideally, we would love to have it yesterday," Kinder said Thursday. "But we're very committed to making it work."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

St. Petersburg officials weren't aware of payment promised to film festival 04/17/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014 11:52pm]
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