Already one of the largest celebrations of gay pride in the United States, St. Pete Pride is getting even bigger in a year of firsts.
The biggest change is the first night parade on Saturday, with the St. Petersburg mayor in attendance for the first time. Pride also expands to four days, with a kickoff party Thursday and a concert on Friday by Mary Lambert, the Seattle singer-songwriter whose work on the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis gay rights anthem Same Love soared to the top of the charts worldwide. It ends with a festival on Sunday.
The events have attracted thousands of people in past years. An economic impact study estimated the St. Pete Pride festival in 2012 was the most-attended event in St. Petersburg for an economic impact of $10 million, according to Research Data Services of Tampa. This year's expansion should lift that number to $18 million, Pride executive director Eric Skains said, because more people will stay in St. Petersburg over more days.
The big unknown, said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Joseph Pratt, who oversees special events, is how many people will come for the parade, the festival or both. He predicts that dividing it into two days will cut the crowds at each event, which can be a good thing for parking and making attendance comfortable.
What Skains is most looking forward to is St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman making history as the first St. Pete mayor to attend the parade since it started in 2002. Fun fact: Kriseman is actually the third mayor, only the first from St. Petersburg. Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard attended the 2012 parade and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn attended last year's parade.
In addition to the mayor's attendance, Skains said he was happy to see the city staff showing more interest.
"It will be huge, seeing our entire city, mayor and city staff showing how much support the LGBT community has."
Skains said he doesn't expect any worries that a nighttime parade would have a rowdier, more Ybor City-type atmosphere.
"No one asks that about ... the Grand Prix night parade, so I don't really anticipate it being a problem," he said. "Granted, our crowd is bigger but St. Pete already has protocols for handling nighttime parades."
Alcohol is another unknown, Pratt said, so the police department will work with Pride organizers.
There will be food and alcohol served during a block party that begins at 5 p.m. Saturday between 22nd 27th streets along Central Avenue, but there are open container laws outside of that zone, Pratt said.
The parade will roll off at sunset through the Kenwood neighborhood, which will have a Family Zone and viewing area in the neighborhood's Seminole Park.
Aside from giving paradegoers a break from the summer sun by holding it at night, Skains said the need to spread the parade and festival into two days was spurred because "we kind of maxed out what we could do in one day."
Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at [email protected]