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Ship fest brought out crowds, lines, grousing

The organizers want to do another maritime festival, but with more volunteers and better handling of crowds.

By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2002

The organizers want to do another maritime festival, but with more volunteers and better handling of crowds.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Both critics and fans of Americas' Sail 2002 can agree on one thing: The three-day maritime festival at St. Petersburg's port was well-attended.

Too well-attended, if you ask Karen Howard, a St. Petersburg woman who went on Saturday with her husband, stepfather and two children.

"I spent nearly $100 and didn't get on one ship," said Howard, 35, a stay-at-home mother. "I was disgusted. It was crowded and hot, and there was nothing else to do but look at the ships."

As festival organizers cleaned up on Monday, they found themselves both reveling in the crowds that materialized for the festival, and reeling from complaints of disorganization, long lines and high prices.

Jack Glasure, president of St. Petersburg Events, the organizing group, said the event was financially successful and appeared to have more than broken even.

"We have enough money to meet all of our obligations," he said.

Just before the festival started, the organizers were predicting that as many as 160,000 people would attend. Over the weekend, organizers said as many as 100,000 had shown up. But on Monday, Glasure said he could not give an exact number of festival attendees.

Glasure said he doesn't know the total because so many places were selling tickets.

"It's a complicated process to count the number of tickets," he said. "Your guess is as good as mine."

Glasure said that while he heard some complaints about crowds and heat, those complimenting the event far outnumbered those dissatisfied with it. He said he got about 50 e-mails and 10 phone calls from people complaining about event conditions.

Some of the problems were expected because it was a first-time event, and Glasure vowed to correct them in future festivals. Glasure said he would like to put on another maritime festival at the port next year. In retrospect, there were not enough volunteers, and they didn't all know key facts, such as where first aid stations were located, he said.

Glasure also pledged to do a better job of providing access to handicapped festivalgoers. The ships were not accessible to people using wheelchairs.

Despite the problems, city officials were enthusiastic about the festival.

"I think it went extremely well for a first-time event," said Anita Treiser, St. Petersburg marketing director. "That area is not designed for an event that size. The complaints were pretty much nothing more than we expected."

Mike Perez, port director, said the mechanics of getting the ships to the dock and tying them up went off without trouble.

He agreed there were not enough volunteers to handle the crowd during the weekend festival, but said that overall he was pleased and would work with the group again next year on another maritime festival. Perez said the crowd could have been better managed by limiting ticket sales.

"The biggest complaint I heard was the heat and the lines that weren't moving quickly," he said. "Any time you go to a big event, you ought to expect to stand in line."

Karen Pierce, 59, of St. Petersburg said she understood that the popularity of the event would likely result in long lines, and she had no problem with that. However, the retired dental assistant faulted the festival for disorganization.

She said she and her husband each paid $16 for tickets when they could have seen the U.S. Coast Guard Eagle for free, something she said festival organizers were not forthcoming about. And even after paying, she said she was disappointed that she got no special consideration for having purchased an expensive ticket.

Even small things, such as the availability and price of drinks, changed in a matter of hours on Friday, the day they visited. At first, there was no ice. Then, drinks were available for four of the food and beverage tickets that came with her event ticket. Then, the price was five tickets. Then, beverage personnel refused to take any tickets for drinks, she said.

"They were changing the rules as they went along," Pierce said.

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