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Race competition could scrub Festival of States day parade

A relative newcomer to the city of St. Petersburg may be helping sound the death knell for a key part of a long-standing tradition that's set to celebrate its 89th year.

For decades, the city has welcomed springtime with the Festival of States, a flurry of events capped by a colorful parade in the Florida sunshine. In years gone by, dozens of out-of-state bands marched past up to 50,000 spectators along the waterfront.

But there are indications that this year's day parade may be canceled as the festival competes with the newcomer, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, for sponsors and the attention of the public.

The day parade was originally scheduled for April 10, but the Festival of States Web site no longer lists the parade in its lineup of events.

Rick McCollum, the executive director of the festival, acknowledged that the day parade is under review. "We haven't made any final decisions on what will change, but we're evaluating all of our events," he said.

"Right now all of our emphasis is on the (festival's) illuminated night parade," he said. "It is our largest event. Last year we had 18,000 people show up. The day parade isn't scheduled until April 10, so we have some time. We won't make any major decisions for a couple of weeks."

Truth is, the parade has been dying a slow death for years. The out-of-state high school bands that used to swarm into the city to march in the day parade and take part in the Champions on Parade competition at Al Lang Field gradually dwindled. In 2000, only one out-of-state band came for the parade.

The Festival of States, like other annual events, is feeling the effects of the sour economy. It is merging its more successful events with the Honda Grand Prix, which is slated for March 26-28. The festival's illuminated night parade is scheduled for March 25.

"All of our events are being reviewed because of loss of sponsorships," said McCollum. "Just like other organizations, the sponsorships are down this year."

The Honda Grand Prix's major sponsors include nine local sponsors: Progress Energy, Bright House Networks, the city of St. Petersburg, the Renaissance Vinoy, the St. Pete/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Bayfront Medical Center, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, the St. Petersburg Times and the GTE Federal Credit Union. Only two of those — Progress Energy and Bright House — are also sponsors of the Festival of States.

Waning interest could also figure in the possible demise of the day parade.

"One of the drawbacks is that the day parade has dwindled in recent years,'' said Lisa Della Penna, events/marketing director for the festival. "It's not nearly as popular as the night parade and it's really hard to get the krewes from Tampa to come over for the parade, which is geared more toward children."

Once a thriving tourist attraction, the day parade no longer appeals to the more sophisticated visitors who frequent downtown St. Petersburg.

Seriously, how many times do we need to see the Indianapolis Police Motorcycle Drill Team do those cool handlebar tricks? In 2004, Mickey and Minnie Mouse were grand marshals. Really? Did they convey the city's legacy and future? I hope not.

Tourists are drawn to downtown in spite of the day parade, not because of it.

While longtime residents may disagree, the day parade gets no more than a passing glance from the throngs of thousands who regularly attend the Saturday Morning Market.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor/community news. She can be reached at (727) 893-8874 or sgadsden@sptimes.com.

TIME LINE

Festival of States

1896Local philanthropist Edwin Tomlinson, in honor of George Washington's birthday, organizes a parade using his personal collection of U.S. flags.

1917The Washington's Birthday parade and a Mid-Winter Fair merge.

1922Resumes after being discontinued for four years because of WWI.

1946Silver Anniversary Celebration, marks the first time visiting bands were invited. 43 bands compete in 425 events.

1955Name changed to Sunshine Festival. A "Goddess of the Sun," "Junior Sungoddess" and a "Mr. Sun" are selected.

1958"Suncoasters Inc.," a nonprofit group of leading business and civic officials, takes over the planning.

1963The Suncoasters return to the older name, "Festival of the States."

1968The Festival of the States adds "Champions on Parade" at Al Lang field.

1971

The parade alone draws about 50,000 spectators.

1994

The event is renamed "Sunshine Festival of States."

1998"Champions on Parade" is canceled because there were no competitive out-of-state bands

2000

Only one out-of-state band participates in the parade.

Race competition could scrub Festival of States day parade 02/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 7:03pm]
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