St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was right to give the St. Pete Pride parade and festival, one of the biggest annual events in the city, equal footing with other premier events when it comes to reducing city fees for security and cleanup. But such decisions shouldn't be made on a case-by-case basis. St. Petersburg needs a policy on fee concessions for events large and small, and the policy should be grounded in the cost to the city of such events versus the benefit derived from hosting them.
St. Pete Pride's festival weekend is June 27-29 and its centerpiece event, the LGBT Pride Parade, now in its 12th year, is being held for the first time at night. More than 100,000 people typically flock downtown for the lavish and colorful celebration of diversity, and that number is expected to grow with the switch to a cooler, nighttime schedule. Also this year, organizers added a third day to Pride weekend, with a concert featuring headliner Mary Lambert on Friday night, a block party and the parade on Saturday night and an all-day street festival on Sunday.
But as the event expanded, so did the fees the city charges to provide city employees for security and cleanup. Though the city technically co-sponsors the parade, it still planned to charge nonprofit St. Pete Pride an estimated $69,000 in fees. Pride leaders, who had heard that the city reduced or waived fees for some other co-sponsored events such as the Grand Prix and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major for Justice Parade, filed an indigent application indicating the group could not afford the $69,000. "We just wanted to be treated like anyone else," said St. Pete Pride executive director Eric Skains.
Kriseman decided the organization should be charged only half of the amount and the city would absorb the remaining costs as in-kind support for the event. "It has a $10 million-plus economic impact," said Kriseman's chief of staff, Kevin King. "This is, I think, an easy one."
That kind of cost versus benefit analysis should underlie what King says will be the administration's next step: to study the process the city has used to determine which events will get city sponsorship and fee reductions/waivers, and determine whether that process needs to be changed. The study should include not just how many hotel rooms are occupied for an event, but also how much associated business activity it sparks, how many police officers are required to monitor road closures and provide security and the number of additional calls for service to police and fire rescue.
No group should feel that city politics or a mayor's personal beliefs entered into the decision about fees. A clear-cut policy supported by facts will help avoid that possibility while also considering the interests of taxpayers.