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Is concert revenue worth the aggravation?

Concerts like Saturday's WildSplash in Coachman Park put a heavy strain on city resources and critics bash the ensuing noise, brawls and pot-smoking.

But the shows draw young people to Clearwater, the nation's oldest big city, and the money they generate is still green.

For city officials, it's a matter of balance.

How much fun is too much?

On Saturday, the crowd swelled to roughly 15,500, many to see New York rapper 50 Cent, whose popularity has skyrocketed with a string of recent hits. Extra police were called in by 7:30 p.m. to help quell disturbances after the park reached capacity and some people were turned away.

Overall, 44 off-duty officers made 10 felony and misdemeanor arrests and ejected at least 27 people from the park, according to police.

City Manager Bill Horne said the crowd just grew too big.

"For me, it's all about the size of a concert," he said Tuesday. "We really only want about 12,000 people, max, in the park."

From now on, Horne said, the city will enforce that number as a sellout, for both advance and walk-up sales. The only exception will be the Fourth of July.

"There won't be another concert that gets us beyond that limit, unless there's some extenuating circumstance," he said. "This is not like Zephyrhills where you've got pastures and acres and acres. If they can't do a rap concert within the capacity of our park, then we won't have it in Clearwater."

Normally, concerts in the park draw far fewer people, said city Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar.

"In 10 years, we have only sold out two events, this one and the Next Big Thing," he said. "A real good event for us, maybe we get 8,000 or 10,000 people."

The Next Big Thing, held in December, also pulls in a young crowd and has generated complaints about noise and rowdiness.

Part of the problem on Saturday, officials said, was that 50 Cent showed up hours late for his performance, creating a volatile mix of impatience and short tempers, not to mention a very long day. Dunbar said the performer's bus driver took a wrong turn, missing the Sunshine Skyway and forcing a detour to Tampa.

Scheduled to wrap up at 9:10 p.m., the concert was still going nearly two hours later.

After overtime for police and firefighters and paying park staff and setup and cleanup costs, the city expects to clear between $50,000 and $75,000 from WildSplash.

"From a revenue standpoint, we did very well," said Dunbar, who said the city has worked hard to provide more diverse entertainment. "We at one time were kind of Jazz Holiday and Three Dog Night."

But Mayor Brian Aungst said Tuesday that he would think twice about hosting another concert like Saturday's in Coachman Park.

"I'm all for diversity, but there's certain things that we should or shouldn't promote in parks," he said, citing complaints about noise, marijuana and foul language. "If we ever do these types of things it will have to be in a controlled environment."

Aungst suggested one way to control the crowd would be to move concerts like WildSplash to the Phillies' new spring training ball park, under construction at Drew Street and U.S. 19.

"And I'm not even sure that that's the answer," he added.

For its trouble, the city got a decent return, officials said.

Profits from Saturday's concert will go toward free events, such as the two-day Fourth of July celebration, which Dunbar said costs $150,000 to $200,000.

The Next Big Thing cost roughly $150,000 to produce, but generated $45,000 above that, according to Dunbar. WildSplash, he said, cost roughly $200,000 because more people attended.

The city earns money from concessions and takes a percentage of ticket sales from the radio stations that promote the concerts.

"We get the money first," said Dunbar. "They get no money until all the bills are paid."

Tracy Roddy, 34, of Largo, said concerts like WildSplash are vital to attract young people to Clearwater.

He took his 9-year-old daughter, Amanda Barber, to Saturday's show and loved it.

"It was a blast," said Roddy. "12,000 people's still a lot of people. I would do it all again."

_ Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrellsptimes.com.

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