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St. Petersburg may charge $1 a person for city park events

ST. PETERSBURG — The city is considering charging cultural groups $1 for every person who attends a special event in public spaces, including parks.

The surcharge or user fee, to be discussed by the City Council on Thursday, would apply to popular events such as the Tampa Bay Blues Festival, American Stage in the Park, the Cajun Zydeco Crawfish Festival and a Taste of Pinellas.

The extra revenue would pump an additional $160,000 into the city's arts fund each year, city officials estimate. The city earns no money from events held in parks and charges community groups only the direct costs for providing police and cleanup services.

Council member Jeff Danner, who came up with the idea, said the surcharge would essentially require popular events that have leaned heavily on city subsidies for years to support newer or less successful programs.

"We felt that a dollar wasn't going to kill someone," he said. "If you are paying $20 for an event, would you not go because it was $21?"

The city would set aside $25,000 to hire a part-time employee to oversee the program. The rest of the earnings would be divided between various needy arts organizations, Danner said.

But event organizers said the surcharge represents an additional burden at a time when the city has already eliminated all special events subsidies, prompting higher ticket prices and reduced programming. Charitable groups that host free events would have an especially hard time paying the user fees, they said.

"They are trying to take even more from us," said David Hood, former president of the Exchange Club of Northeast St. Petersburg, which sponsors Rib Fest. "It's completely ridiculous."

For decades, the city picked up the tab for costs such as police detail and cleanup services for many public events.

But statewide budget cuts prompted the city to cut back last year, and in 2008 all city funding for special events was eliminated.

The cut in city subsidies cost the Mainsail Arts Festival $11,000, First Night St. Pete $20,000 and the Blues Fest $30,000.

Under the surcharge program, Mainsail could owe the city $3,500, according to city estimates, which are based on past attendance records. First Night would have to cough up $4,850. Blues Festival would need to turn over $25,000.

If that happens, Charles Ross, president of the Tampa Bay Blues Foundation, the nonprofit group that produces the blues concert, said he would consider moving the event elsewhere.

"The city should be nurturing special events, not trying to take advantage of us," said Ross, whose organization benefits the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children. "If we are doing special events to benefit charity, we should not be required to also give huge amounts of money to the city."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg may charge $1 a person for city park events 05/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 11:42am]
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