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City weighs cost of cleaning up concerts

Interim Mayor Frank Hibbard was there the afternoon the "F-bombs" rained down from the stage at Coachman Park and were carried by a western wind across Clearwater Harbor to residents of Island Estates.

They were coming from the lead singer of the alternative rock band Lostprophets at the annual Next Big Thing concert in December. Between songs, the lead singer began a three-minute monologue in which Hibbard estimated he said the F-word 20 times.

"This guy was using it in every form, as a noun, a verb, an adverb," Hibbard said. "When you can use it as a preposition, that's impressive."

Hibbard awaited the inevitable phone calls.

Now, he's leading the pack in a call to either clean up the language at the alternative rock and hip-hop concerts the city hosts several times a year or to scrap them altogether.

But discontinuing the concerts would come at a price, City Manager Bill Horne said.

Some downtown residents may not like the noise of the alternative and hip-hop concerts. They may not like the cursing.

But the bottom line is that those concerts are well attended by the hard-to-reach youth, and they make money for the city _ $194,000 last year. That money helps subsidize a number of other less popular or free events.

It doubled the budget (to $60,000) for the city's mega July Fourth fireworks show.

"That's why we have the biggest and best fireworks show in the Tampa Bay area," said parks and recreation director Kevin Dunbar.

It helped pay for two city-run and money-losing Christian contemporary concerts. It helped purchase new floats for the Holiday Parade. In all, nine city events were supplemented with money from those concerts.

Clearwater's foray into the major concert game came during the NCAA Final Four weekend in 1999. The city brought Hootie and the Blowfish and the Beach Boys to Coachman Park. More than 18,500 bought tickets, but the city ended up losing $1,500 on the two concerts. The city also picked up the $10,000 tab for the police officers and emergency medical technicians who worked extra hours.

That's when recreation officials decided to cultivate relationships with radio stations interested in co-promoting Coachman Park concerts. The radio stations would assume the bulk of the risk _ paying the artists _ and the city would make its share on leasing space to vendors and exhibitors and selling concessions.

"Our philosophy is that we don't want to do everything, just make sure everything gets done," Dunbar said.

Those relationships, primarily with WSUN-FM 97.1 (97X), which produces the Next Big Thing and New Rock Spectacle concerts, and WLLD-FM 98.7, which does the annual WiLDSplash concert, have been a financial success for both the stations and the city. Coachman Park has developed a reputation for all-day, festival-type concerts.

Attendance at the events has been consistently good. The radio stations know what performers are hot, Dunbar said, and promote the concerts on air. The city negotiates with the radio stations to co-produce the concerts.

Last year's WiLDSplash featuring OutKast's Big Boi, which attracted 9,500 people, was fairly typical, Dunbar said. For that concert, the city got $17,048 from its 10 percent of ticket sales; $47,195 from soda, beer and water sales; and $6,689 from leasing space to vendors and exhibitors. After expenses such as ice, staffing, tent and table rentals, and the purchase of beer and soda, the city netted $49,678.

The radio stations get most, if not all, of the ticket sales but must pay for the talent, as well as for their transportation and accommodations, which can add up. The Next Big Thing in December was sold out, with 12,500 people paying $25 apiece to attend. That comes to $312,500, but 97X paid for 10 bands. One of the headliners, Sum 41, was on the Late Show with David Letterman the night before, Dunbar said. The group was flown in for the concert and put up in the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Hotel for the weekend.

Neither of the radio stations would return calls to talk about the concerts, but Dunbar said the days of radio stations putting on break-even concerts for publicity are over. They expect to turn a profit, he said.

And they have. The concerts are clearly popular, Dunbar said.

"For us, the bottom line is, "Look at the attendance those events get every year,' " Dunbar said.

And the concerts are reaching a demographic that the recreation department has historically struggled to interest _ teenagers and young adults.

"For us, this gets us the whole diversity picture," Dunbar said. "We used to be Three Dog Night and Jazz Holiday."

The city would like to get back to some of those traditional "oldies but goodies" concerts. But until the long-delayed construction of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge is completed, the city has committed to not bringing in any new concerts that require closing Drew Street because of traffic jams.

"We've been in a holding pattern for some time," Dunbar said.

But the recreation department would like to continue with the alternative and hip-hop concerts it has established as annual traditions, he said.

The city has made it a priority to try to offer concerts and events that appeal to a wide variety of age groups, Horne said.

"Diversity of concerts at Coachman is one of those things that is good for us," Horne said. "It adds to our quality of life."

And it draws people to downtown, a long-standing goal of city leaders.

"We look to include everyone in everything we do," Dunbar said. "With music, there are a lot of different tastes out there. Some people's music is other people's noise."

The Next Big Thing and WiLDSplash have the added benefit of making money to benefit a host of other recreation, Horne said.

"The challenge we have, we've got to find a way to confine the noise as close to the park as we can," he said, "so as not to disrespect the residents living nearby."

It's not so much cursing in songs as the monologues between them that has caught neighbors' attention, he said.

"I don't know what's doable," he said. "The whole idea of censorship is out of the question . . . If they choose to (use profanity), there's really no way to stop it. It's not like there's a five-second delay like on television."

Dunbar understands neighbors' frustration with profanity at the events, but for the noise, "to some degree, that's part of living in an urban environment."

The city will continue to review performers the radio stations suggest and will veto acts it considers a high risk, he said.

"We affectionately call it the 50 Cent Rule," Dunbar said, referring to the hip-hop artist who drew the ire of city officials for showing up more than two hours late for the 2003 WiLDSplash and using foul language.

But there's no pleasing some people, Dunbar said.

"The handful of people complaining, they probably wouldn't care if we didn't have any concerts of any size," Dunbar said. "They'd just as soon not have any events at all."

Hibbard agreed a bit of inconvenience and noise are often the price residents pay to live in a vibrant downtown, "but I don't think people should be subjected to that kind of profanity.

"I'm really at the point where I support discontinuing those concerts that are problems," he said.

The council voted unanimously to have city staff talk to the radio stations and "tell them we are at a breaking point," Hibbard said. And if they can't assure the profanity will be handled, he said, the shows will not continue.

"It probably means scaling back (other events) somewhat," Hibbard said. "That's one of the tradeoffs we have to make that we don't necessarily want to make. You can't have it all."

CASH FROM CONCERTS

Last year's moneymaking concerts at Coachman Park:

CONCERT ATTENDENCE SPONSOR CITY'S

TAKE

Next Big Thing + 12,500 WSUN-FM 97.1 (97X) $53,000

WiLDSplash 9,500 WLLD-FM 98.7 $49,678

New Rock Spectacle

with the Darkness 9,000 97X $40,000

Evanescence at

Verizon Music Festival 7,500 Verizon $25,000

+ All numbers from 2004 except Next Big Thing, where numbers are from 2003

Source: City of Clearwater

WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?

Events subsidized by profits from the alternative rock and hip-hop concerts in 2004, by amount:

Clearwater Celebrates America (fireworks and entertainment), $55,000

Fun N' Sun Festival (free concerts, floats and more), $45,000

Holiday Parade, $12,000

Other concerts (reduces admission to audience) $45,000

Phillies Fanfest, $2,500

Boo Fest, $2,000

Library's Main Thing Concerts, $5,000

Beach Fest $12,000

Jazz Holiday, $16,000

Total: $194,500 in 2004

Source: City of Clearwater

Clutching her shoes, Edie Kennedy, 14, of Sarasota is passed around atop the crowd as Less Than Jake performed during the Next Big Thing alternative concert in December 2003 at Clearwater's Coachman Park. The city co-produces the show annually with WSUN-FM 97.1 (97X). City leaders want to cut down on the foul language often heard at shows like this.

Less Than Jake's guitarist Chris Demakes, right, and bassist Roger Manganelli perform during the 2003 Next Big Thing at Coachman Park. City Manager Bill Horne said Next Big Thing and WiLDSplash have the added benefit of making money to benefit a host of other recreation. Thousands of fans from the greater Tampa Bay area cheer the arrival of OutKast's Big Boi at the WiLDSplash concert in March at Clearwater's Coachman Park. The show was financially typical for the city, with it receiving 10 percent of ticket sales and money from drink sales and leasing space. After expenses, the city netted $49,678.

Brandy Prince performs the City Boy dance during March's WiLDSplash at Coachman Park. Tampa rapper Tom G and the City Boys made the dance.

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