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Festival of States will get a tune-up

(ran NS, S editions of TAMPA BAY & STATE)

A streamlined Sunshine Festival of States with a focus on music is on the way, says Dick Ulrich, president of the Suncoasters, the organization that produces the festival.

The 74th annual spring celebration will be March 31 through April 9. "Twelve out-of-state high school bands have already confirmed that they are participating," Ulrich said. That is two more bands than last year.

Such popular events as the field show, parades and concert competitions will be back, with Billy Martin, a band director whose band has previously participated in festival competitions, assisting the festival staff. Malcolm King, longtime Suncoaster and former president of the organization, will serve as interim executive director.

And yes, plans include the ToyotaBlast.

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The festival had gone deeper into debt for the last three years. This summer, the festival staff was cut to one employee and its existence was in doubt. Low attendance at some concerts and the length of the festival, which had grown to three weeks, put the festival in jeopardy.

The city gave it a one-time $52,000 subsidy to get it back on its feet. After analyzing what was right and what was wrong with past events, Suncoasters now have come up with their plans.

For Malcolm King, the plan is to find as many event sponsors as possible.

"We have contacted all the previous sponsors, and almost all of them are back," Ulrich said. "And (WFLA) Ch. 8 will televise events."

The Tradewinds Resort of St. Pete Beach, sponsor of last year's Parade of States, is on board again. The Suncoasters are working to put tour groups together from beach hotels to come in for events.

The Suncoasters plan to promote the field show more, and to take advantage more of the visiting bands by having concerts in Williams and Straub parks at different times of the day. "You have to realize it costs these bands at least $100,000 apiece to come here," Ulrich said. "That's $1.5-million total.

"Whether or not we go for large-scale entertainment depends on the economics," he added, referring to the big-name concerts last year, some of which didn't have good attendance numbers.

One event that has been eliminated from this year's schedule is the Civic Salute, a luncheon for service organizations, which he terms "not dead, but on the shelf."

"We realize also that gating has hurt events and frustrated people, but we will have to protect some areas so we can generate revenue," said Ulrich, who is, appropriately, a certified public accountant. "We're really excited about trying to put on a quality festival within a 10-day period rather than three weeks, which we have previously."

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