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Organizers cancel Beachfest

The annual Beachfest celebration, which for five years has lured thousands of people to the city, won't be held this year because the sponsoring charity decided not to be involved.

St. Petersburg Beach Charities Inc. sponsored the three-day event for the past five years but pulled out this year because of difficulty raising money and problems getting permits because of turtle-nesting season, said Steve Dupre, president of the charity.

Dupre said his organization, created in 1988 to sponsor the beach celebration and raise money for the Suncoast Children's Dream Fund, decided last month not to sponsor the event.

He said the group will "take a year off and see where we are next year."

Ray Faulkner, president of the Dream Fund, said he learned about the cancellation June 9. Ever since, his organization has been trying to line up new funding sources, he said.

Nearly $200,000 has been given to the Dream Fund through Beachfest over the past five years, Faulkner said.

"It's tough to replace that kind of money," he said.

The 11-year-old Dream Fund has an annual budget of about $75,000 and was established to grant the wishes of critically ill children in the area.

Faulkner said some beach events, previously held as part of Beachfest, still may be scheduled this fall.

Assistant City Manager Danny Walker, who is an organizer of the event, said the charity was far short of the $100,000 in corporate sponsorship it needed.

"We weren't anywhere close," he said.

The city already had budgeted more than $12,000 to contribute to the event, but the charity will not apply for that money, Walker said. It also will not ask for the estimated $15,000 of in-kind services, such as security, that the city has provided in the past. Walker said the charity had wanted to be able to repay the city for the in-kind services but knew it would not be able to.

The other problem, he said, was a conflict with turtles.

In order to get hotels to donate rooms, the event had to be held in September because of high occupancy in October, Walker said. But turtle-nesting season, when tough restrictions on beach activities are in place, runs until the beginning of October.

Last year the festival was held the first weekend of October and drew 100,000 people. This fall the event had been planned for Sept. 10-12.

"We were told it was unlikely that we would get our permits," Walker said. However, he added, the charity did not apply for the permits.

Dupre said the charity has not been dissolved and may continue to sponsor other events. But Walker said its Beachfest participation is "out of business." He said Tuesday that he closed the Beachfest checking account earlier in the day.