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Parks and rock: How Curtis Hixon, Coachman and Vinoy parks vie for music festivals

Leo Bennett's soul music festival, Funk Fest, was at a crossroads.

His choices were to abandon his commitment to bring the annual festival to the Tampa Bay area or continue to lose money on a too-large venue, he said.

Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick presented Bennett with a Plan C: move his festival from Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in Tampa.

Bennett, 41, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Variety Entertainment, was skeptical.

But Reddick showed him the logistics and how the venue, which seats up to 12,000 was the exact right size for Funk Fest, which will take place May 3 and 4 in Tampa.

With a little help from city government, Bennett found out what many event organizers in the Tampa Bay area already know — there's a place for everything around here.

Fantastic weather and premiere park locations make the area attractive for outdoor festivals and traveling tours. On Saturday, Curtis Hixon Park and Clearwater's Coachman Park will host thousands of music fans at the Gasparilla Music Festival and hip-hop festival Wild Splash, respectively. In April, thousands more will come to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park for the Tampa Bay Blues Festival.

Located in the Old Northeast neighborhood, planners have to apply a year in advance to get a slot in Vinoy's coveted book, said Thomas Jackson, a city recreation manager for sponsored events. The vastness of Vinoy's flat, grassy space allows concerts to set up vendors, port-o-lets and attractions without cutting into space for more than 30,000 concertgoers.

"We don't market it," Jackson said. "Basically, people just love our waterfront. We get all kinds of requests and we turn down so many."

Local radio station 97X looked to Vinoy Park when it moved its annual Next Big Thing concert from the Live Nation Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds last winter.

"We wanted to get back to our festival roots," said Valerie Claus, event manager for Cox Media Group. "We were looking to draw from 15,000 to 20,000 people and Vinoy can absolutely accommodate that size crowd."

But the space also comes with restrictions. Curfew is 10 p.m. and organizers have to pay fees for overruns on time, Bennett said. And, like other parks, organizers who want to sell beer and wine in the park must go through a nonprofit organization, according to Jackson.

Smaller events can look west to Clearwater's Coachman Park to get beautiful waterfront scenery akin to Vinoy's. Accommodating crowds up to 13,000, the city park hosts firework shows, concerts and food festivals year-round, said Brian Craig, events and festivals coordinator for the city of Clearwater.

Coachman hosts fewer concerts annually than its competitors because of its location. "We're hesitant to bring in too many concerts because the park is in a residential area," Craig said.

But that doesn't stop the requests.

"It's a beautiful venue that markets itself." Craig said. "For all of our festivals, we partner with the local media and as an outgrowth of that we happened to become home for some of the radio festivals like Wild Splash."

Even a venue for 13,000 was too large for Bennett's Funk Fest. In 2010, its first year in the area, the concert drew 12,000 people to Vinoy Park. In 2011, the show was stretched over two days to minimize the time audience members spent frying in the April/May sun. Splitting the lineup reduced the crowd to about 5,000 per day. Bennett said the costs for the venue remained the same, even as his revenue dramatically decreased.

"To be honest, I didn't even look at Tampa because I thought it would be more expensive," he said.

Then Reddick showed him the recently renovated Curtis Hixon Park overlooking the Hillsborough River. "It was cheaper and the size fit what we were looking for," he said.

Three cities, three parks

Music festival organizers have plenty of choices when planning an event in Tampa Bay. Here's a look at the three busiest locations.

Coachman Park

301 Drew St., Clearwater

Seats up to 13,000

Mostly grass, bring a blanket or lawn chair

View: Look out onto the sunset over Clearwater Harbor

Major events: Wild Splash, Fun 'N Sun, Clearwater Jazz Holiday

Curtis Hixon Park

600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa

Seats from 7,000 to 12,000

Mix of turf, benches, concrete and stairs

View: Look across the Hillsborough River at the University of Tampa's minarets

Major events: Gasparilla Music Festival, Funk Fest

Vinoy Park

701 Bayshore Drive NE, St. Petersburg

Seats up to 30,000

Mostly grass, blankets and lawn chairs welcome

View: Sit on the eastern seawall and watch the gulls fly over Tampa Bay

Major events: Tampa Bay Blues Festival, 97X Next Big Thing, 97X Backyard BBQ, Vans Warped Tour, Ribfest

Parks and rock: How Curtis Hixon, Coachman and Vinoy parks vie for music festivals 03/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 2:52pm]
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