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  1. Music

Boy George, Culture Club bring Madeira Beach's R.O.C. Park into the big time

MADEIRA BEACH — Inside Doug Andrews' office, against a corkboard tacked with site plans and fishing calendars, leans a black guitar signed by the band Everclear, a souvenir from his fledgling footsteps in the music business.

Outside sits an even grander reminder: An enormous concrete stage surrounded by cranes and construction. This week, weather willing, it will finally get a roof.

On Saturday, the city will host a daylong music festival headlined by Boy George and Culture Club at R.O.C. Park, the centerpiece of its shiny new $10 million municipal complex. It's the park's third major music fest of the summer, and likely the biggest, with 4,600 tickets sold at last count — more than the population of Madeira Beach itself.

"It's all been a drastically new deal for a rec center," said Andrews, Madeira Beach's director of parks and recreation. "We're the guys rolling out the kickball so kids can play kickball. None of my staff has ever done anything like this before."

Andrews admits the learning curve on the first two hit-and-miss shows has been steep. But if this one goes well, it could usher in a new era of entertainment for the city.

"All the other ones were kind of dry runs," he said. "This is the big one. This is our Super Bowl. That's how we're treating it. We put on a good show here, guess what? Sky's the limit."

• • •

Concerts like Saturday's Unity Fest were never part of the plan for R.O.C. Park. Fishing derbies, sports tournaments and holiday festivals? Yes. Boy George borrowing a dressing room from city summer campers? Not quite.

The city was well on its way toward building a sleek waterfront campus when local developer Bill Karns pitched an idea.

Karns' 26-year-old son, William III, died in 2013, and Karns was looking for a way to create a public space of remembrance — not just for his own son, but for anyone who'd lost a child. The city had about $150,000 left in its landscaping budget. They agreed to hand it to Karns, who donated and raised more money to build the park both sides wanted. The "R.O.C." in R.O.C. Park stands for Remember Our Children.

"It's not just for the kids that are gone," said Karns. "It's for the kids and families that are here to enjoy."

Karns' son was friendly with local concert promoter John C. "Jack" Bodziak, who operated Jannus Landing before it closed and reopened as Jannus Live. Bodziak is a notorious figure in local music circles — in 2010 and 2011 he served 17 months in prison for grand theft and writing bad checks, and will be on probation until 2031. Bodziak connected Karns and Madeira Beach officials with promoters looking to create a new festival headlined by Culture Club, reunited and touring for the first time in 15 years.

"It's certainly a lot smaller and more manageable, and the costs are definitely considerably less," said one of those promoters, Harry Tiyler, who has also staged festivals at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg and England Brothers Bandshell Park in Pinellas Park. "I love Vinoy because it's got the capacity, but in the end, you're going to have to have bands that can do that kind of capacity to pay those big police bills."

Tiyler and Bodziak were already bringing another summer festival, the Summerland Tour with Everclear, Fuel and others, to a club in Seminole. But when ticket sales outpaced that venue's capacity, R.O.C. Park was a logical upgrade.

Summerland on June 17 drew upwards of 6,000 people, setting the stage for another Tiyler-Bodziak event, the Rock and Reggae Beach Bash with the Original Wailers on July 24. Tiyler estimates a couple of thousand tickets were sold, but thunderstorms rendered the show a washout.

Karns, Andrews and the city were willing to work with Bodziak, despite his past legal troubles, because the concerts would build buzz for the park and bring outsiders to Madeira Beach, benefiting local businesses.

"America's the land of opportunity, right?" Andrews said. "We give everybody a second chance."

Bodziak, for his part, is grateful to be part of the R.O.C. Park movement.

"We're doing some stuff there that is mutually beneficial for both the city and its residents," he said. "It's a beautiful park and a great charity, and something I'm proud to be associated with."

• • •

Promoters and city staff alike view R.O.C. Park's first two concerts as a learning process. There have been disagreements over everything from ticket prices (as low as $5 on Groupon for Summerland) to the cost of a water bottle ($5 for the first two shows, which Andrews says will come down to $3 for Culture Club).

Andrews was unsure how residents would react to concert noise and parking — a combination of valet and shuttle service from Madeira Beach Middle School — but said gripes have been minimal. The biggest complaint from an adjacent condo complex, he said, was a tour bus crushing a shuffleboard court.

Financially, the city came out ahead on both shows, netting more than $5,000 for Summerland and around $3,500 for Rock and Reggae. But they're not in this business to make money.

"We're not profit centers," Andrews said. "We're here to service the public good."

Andrews said he has already had multiple offers to host big concerts, but wants to get by Culture Club first. One, a rock show with Rob Zombie and Godsmack, was rejected outright, as it didn't fit in with R.O.C. Park's family-friendly directive. They've discussed a country concert and a Rat Pack tribute show for fall, and Karns hopes to throw a R.O.C. Park fundraising concert during the city's annual lighted boat parade on Dec. 12.

For larger concerts, the city will continue to rent the park to professional promoters. The cost of Saturday's festival is in the mid-six figures, a financial risk the city isn't ready to take.

"This is never going to be a 36-weekend-a-year concert facility," Andrews said. "But maybe once a month, if we do something of quality, we can bring in the type of crowd that we're looking for."

Karns, a big music fan whose company handled Jannus Live's renovation, is happy with the unexpected turn his memorial vision has taken.

"If the value was determined by the good times that were had, and the laughs and everything, it's wildly successful," he said.

Andrews' staff is amazed by tiny Maderia Beach's sudden and unexpected prominence in Tampa Bay's festival scene. He laughs when describing Everclear using the city's new weight room, or the Original Wailers playing pingpong beneath a mural made from summer-campers' handprints.

"The running joke is, this isn't your drunken uncle's Madeira Beach anymore," he said. "But he's still welcome here."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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