Monday, August 20, 2018
Public safety

Organizers say trouble-plagued Sunset Music Festival will be back at Raymond James Stadium next year

TAMPA — The Sunset Music Festival, an outdoor concert where two people died this year of drug overdoses and more than 50 people were hospitalized, will return to Tampa in 2017, organizers announced Monday.

The Tampa Sports Authority board of directors voted Monday to retain the two-day electronic dance music festival at Raymond James Stadium, despite previous objections from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others.

"With our partners, we will continue to work together to create and maintain a safe environment at next year's festival and for many years to come," John Santoro, owner of the Sunset Music Festival, said in a release. "And as we learn about better or safer ways to do things, we are committed to continuing to improve."

But Buckhorn said the city and the festival promoters are "far from partners."

"These are promoters in pursuit of profit and they could care less for the health, safety and welfare of attendees," Buckhorn said.

In May, Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee died after attending the festival of accidental drug abuse, coroners said. Autopsies found ecstasy, or MDMA, and a related drug, MDA, in the blood of both.

At the same festival, city and county rescue crews transported 57 concertgoers to area hospitals. A combination of heat and drug abuse was the determined cause of the medical emergencies.

"This places a huge burden on safety agencies, impacts coverage around the city because it takes police and fire rescue out of circulation to handle drug-addled concertgoers, and now they're getting religion? Tell that to the parents of those kids who died," Buckhorn said.

Raymond James Stadium has hosted the Sunset Music Festival since 2012, and this year saw a 6 percent spike in attendance with more than 51,000 concert-goers 18 and older. The number of security guards at the festival was increased to 473, the number of off-duty police officers to 199 and the number of off-duty emergency medical technicians to 72.

On Monday the sports authority provided organizers with a list of best practices to adopt before the concert's return. Among those practices are increasing the number of medical personnel on site, increasing free hydration stations and passing out more free bottled water beyond the more than 17,000 distributed in May. The festival also will expand its footprint to allow for more circulation for attendees, expand capacity in "cooling tents" and shaded areas, and add more canine and undercover officer patrols, organizers said.

Still, Buckhorn questioned why such measures weren't enacted before two people died and if they are truly enough to keep the event safe.

"This is a genre of music in which drugs are a big part and there's no escaping that," Buckhorn said. "The drugs taken enhance the music experience and that's why we see such a proliferation."

Buckhorn is not a member of the Sports Authority and cannot prevent the festival from returning, but he can ensure it pays the city for services rendered, he said.

"Rest assured, they will pay whatever it takes for us to reach the level of service needed to accommodate the demand this is going to put on us," Buckhorn said.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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