Latex and leather will be in fashion in St. Petersburg this weekend as Fetish Con celebrates its 15th year in a new location — the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront.
More than 6,000 people from around the world attended the kink trade show last year at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. Adult film directors, fetish models, bondage gear vendors and foot enthusiasts would pop out in between workshops on the business of fetish play, grab bites from local restaurants and pop into local tourist attractions.
"We were great for Tampa in a down time of year for tourism," said Genesis Lynn, an event promoter and organizer for the convention. "Three quarters of the people who attend are from outside the state and mostly from out of the country. Some people have come from as far away as Australia."
With a lucrative relationship like that, it is still unclear why Lynn and Fetish Con parted ways with the Tampa Hilton, where the convention had been since 2006. Lynn and representatives from the Tampa Hilton declined to comment on the split.
Tampa restaurants and bars conditioned themselves to take notice but not umbrage when women in 6-inch heels and maid uniforms carrying leashes walked with men in leather chaps and ball gags through the streets. The exchanges were always pleasant, according to organizers and hotel employees.
"People would request to work when we were in town because we had such as good reputation," Lynn said.
For the people of St. Petersburg, Lynn said Fetish Con likely won't be any more risque than St. Pete Pride, which takes over the Grand Central District every June and ushers in a variety of flashy costumes.
The majority of the action from workshops to dungeon play will be confined to the Hilton, where the entire hotel has been booked by convention attendees. Some guests will also stay at the nearby Courtyard St. Petersburg Downtown Marriott.
"That was our biggest concern really when moving, if there was going to be a hotel big enough for us," Lynn said. "We could have easily filled a hotel with 500 rooms. But we were able to work with the Hilton and Marriott to get accommodations for all our guests."
The show is open to adults 18 and older, and with no nonconvention guests in the hotel its unlikely any wee ones will be getting an eyeful of something parents will have to explain later.
Fetish Con also has a strict no nudity policy. Attendees can only wear street legal outfits inside and outside of the hotel's ballrooms.
"Street legal" does however allow for some interpretation on the part of the wearer.
"You have to understand that some people dress up for the show and others, that's just their lifestyle," Lynn said. "Sure, they'll probably be at Publix and around downtown. They have that right to dress however they want."
The most famous character in the throng will be Bernie the Bondage Bunny, a man in a pink and white smiling bunny suit with a ball gag in its mouth. He started as a conventiongoer but Lynn and the organizers have since adopted him as the official mascot of Fetish Con.
"He contacted me on Twitter the other day to say he was so excited to be coming to the show again," Lynn said. "We just love him."
Shuttles will usher people from the hotels to the two off-site parties at Sip Social Lounge and the State Theatre as the trade show rolls along.
Employees at nearby Nature's Table City Center were giddy at the thought of people watching the stream of customers looking to grab meals in between events.
"Anything that changes up the downtown gives it a pop or makes it a more vibrant place is welcome," said Clay Dempster, the sandwich and smoothie restaurant's chef manager.
Early arriving Fetish Con guests were already trickling into Gratzzi Italian Grille on Second Street S on Tuesday night.
"They were dressed normally, but we started talking and I found out that customers from two separate tables were here for Fetish Con," said Jesus Villalobos, a manager at Gratzzi. "It was a pleasant experience really. I'm looking forward to more."
Outside of meals, though, it's hard to say whether the conventioneers will have much time wander around. Fetish Con will hold a private pool party for people with all-access passes at the Hilton. A Foot Fetish Party is also returning to the kink-fest along with a jam packed schedule of workshops on everything from legal issues in adult film to the art of placing food on a nude model.
"With any move, there's going to be growing pains," Lynn said. "They've got to get to know us and when they do, they'll find out we're a good group and great addition to the area."