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St. Petersburg ready for Festival of States

As if Dr. Hook and Ike Turner weren't enough, St. Petersburg books other bands, fireworks and parades over seven days.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 3, 2002

Billed as St. Petersburg's annual civic celebration, the Festival of States kicks off its 81st year this weekend. Six days of events, some old and some new, lead up to the festival's crowning event, the TradeWinds Resort Festival of States Parade on April 13.

How does it all come together?

It takes about 800 people to produce the Festival of States each year. With the exception of four paid staff members who work in the festival office at 33 Sixth St. S, they are all volunteers.

The majority of the work is done by the Suncoasters, a group with about 250 members that was created to sponsor the festival after the Chamber of Commerce dropped it in 1954. In its ranks are business and civic leaders who divide themselves into committees to organize festival events. A series of parade committees, for example, handles band procurement, float registration and unit placement.

Each Suncoaster works on two or three committees that meet about once a month for six months leading up to the festival. There is no such thing as rank in the organization, said Joel Momberg, executive vice president of All Children's Hospital Foundation, who has been a Suncoaster for eight years.

"The people who are answering the phones and taking tickets and vacuuming the floors over at the office were former CEOs of major companies," he said, adding that not all of them are retired. "Some of them take a week off (from their jobs) to do festival-oriented duties."

In recent years, more women have joined the Suncoasters, Momberg said. There also has been an influx of younger members, who he says have infused the festival with energy.

Ford Kyes, chief executive officer of St. Anthony's Hospital, is one of 25 who joined the Suncoasters this year. The 47-year-old said he saw membership as an opportunity to meet people and to serve the community.

Suncoaster spouses are vital to the volunteer effort, said Suncoasters president Mark Mahaffey, chairman of the board for the Mahaffey Company. They provide clerical support in the office, work on the Junior Sungoddess and Sungoddess committees and sell soft drinks and beer at festival events.

Equally vital are volunteer groups, including Bayfront Medical Center employees. They assist on site with the Sam Robinson/Tampa Bay Blues Festival and with backstage parking for SunFest.

How much does it cost and where does the money come from?

The budget for this year's festival is approximately $400,000, according to Suncoasters treasurer Marcus Green. About half is spent on administration and the rest on event expenses.

The largest single contribution, about $100,000, comes from Suncoaster members, who pay an average of $500 in yearly dues. Corporate sponsorships, ranging from $250 to $10,000, brought in $163,550 this year.

The city of St. Petersburg contributed $75,000, a $25,000 increase from last year. Revenue from events, such as the coronation ball and the field show, are expected to add about $100,000.

Additionally, about $200,000 is donated in in-kind contributions. The city, for example, provides police and sanitation services for the parade. Local businesses donate photography, hospitality, advertising, vehicle usage and venue rental.

The festival is expected to make money. Besides producing a civic celebration for people to enjoy, its goal is to raise money for youth education including scholarships for minority students, festival executive director Lane Hosmer said.

"People think that if you're a nonprofit organization, you're not supposed to have money, that you're supposed to be poor," he said, explaining that the Festival of States is a 501c3 corporation. "What we do with the money is benevolent, but we can't (provide scholarships) if we don't raise enough money to pay for the festival itself."

How did the festival get to where it is today?

Throughout its 81 years, the Festival of States has been a work in progress. Its roots go back to 1896, when schoolchildren celebrated Washington's Birthday with a day of "exercises." It expanded to a five-day festival in 1913, was shortened in 1914, and disappeared during World War I.

The festival grew during the '20s, '30s and '40s. The first Women's Chamber of Commerce held a card party in 1923. A kiddies' parade started in 1929. Sailing regattas, such as the St. Petersburg-Havana Yacht Race, became part of the festival in 1930.

In 1941, the Florida Band Masters Association introduced the tradition of multiple bands to the festival. Five years later, 2,400 students from 43 bands participated in 425 competitive events throughout the city.

In an effort to give the people of St. Petersburg everything under the sun, organizers have presented historical re-enactments, circus performances, a shell show and a rodeo. Sporting events have included a fencing competition, a water ski tournament and a professional tennis match. Artistic offerings have included folk and opera singers, square dancers, ballet dancers and a "Mile of Art."

The name of the festival has changed six times since 1913. The St. Petersburg Fair and Tourist Week became the DeSoto Celebration in 1914. In 1919, the organizers changed the name to Festival of States, and in 1954 they decided to call it the Sunshine Festival. In 1963, it was named the St. Petersburg Festival of States. It became the Sunshine Festival of States in 1994.

What's new this year?

Mr./Ms. Sun and Sungoddess Coronation Ball and Pageant

7 p.m. Friday The Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N

An addition to this year's event will be a dinner catered by the Wine Cellar and entertainment by Larry Hoppen, formerly of the band Orleans. Tickets for the black tie fundraiser are $100.

'Strike Up the Band' Field Show Spectacular 7 p.m. April 11

Florida Power Park

After being dropped last year, a new and improved version of Champions on Parade returns. This year's show features middle school, high school, college and alumni bands, the Florida Divisional Band of the Salvation Army, the U.S. Naval Academy Drum and Bugle Corps and the 450-member Second Time Arounders, who are celebrating their 20th anniversary. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors over 65 and children under 18.

Florida Power SunFest Noon-8 p.m. April 13

Tire Kingdom and Michelin Car Show, NASA exhibit "Benefits from Space," Music Stage starring Dr. Hook, and TASCO Ultimate Interactive Area and Stage, all at Vinoy Park; Franklin Templeton KidsArt Festival and SpringStation and Alltel Interactive Sports Exhibit, North Shore Park parking lot; arts and crafts show, South Straub Park. Shuttle service is available.

What returns from last year?

Sam Robinson/Tampa Bay Blues Festival

Friday through Sunday Vinoy Waterfront Park

Headliners for the eighth annual event include the North Mississippi Allstars, Little Feat and Ike Turner. Tickets are $20 Friday, $25 Saturday and $20 Sunday, or $50 for all three days. (Proceeds benefit minority student scholarships.) Friday, 4:30-10 p.m.; Saturday noon-10 p.m.; Sunday 1-10 p.m.

Salvador Dali Chalk Art Festival

Pinellas County students will use museum study guides to create Surrealist chalk drawings in a competition for U.S. Savings Bonds.

Pinellas County Schools' All County MusicFest

"Strike Up the Bands" is the theme for this year's show, which features the Middle School Honor Band, the Middle School Jazz Band and the High School Honor Band. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children.

SouthTrust Bank Illuminated Night Parade and Fireworks

This year's parade features more than 50 units including color guards, bands, floats and walking groups. Limited bleacher seating is available for $6. Harvey's Festival 5K Run precedes the parade at 6:15 p.m. at the Pier. Fireworks will be launched from Spa Beach over the downtown waterfront after the parade about 9:15 p.m.

Annual TradeWinds Resort Festival of States Parade 10 a.m.-noon April 13

In the festival's crowning event, 68 units including the Indianapolis Police Motorcycle Drill Team, the U.S. Naval Academy Drum and Bugle Corps, the Second Time Arounders and nine local high school bands will march east on Central Avenue to Bayshore Drive and north to Vinoy Park. Limited bleacher seating is available for $6.

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