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A Times Editorial

Let promoters pay upfront

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002

The promoter of 2001 Super Fest in St. Petersburg wrote the city a bad check. The promoter of May's Bay Fest music festival is offering to pay only 20 percent of its debt to the city, and it stiffed a charity involved in the event. Add the many complaints about disorganization at the recent Americas' Sail 2002, and the city of St. Petersburg has a growing public relations problem on its hands.

The tepid response from city officials hasn't helped. When questioned by the City Council, city marketing director Anita Treiser was more defensive than responsive. She pointed out that the city oversees dozens of successful events, and that is true. But the spectacular failures are what stick in people's memories.

At the heart of the problem is the city's policy of collecting upfront only a portion of its expenses in putting on an event. The city does make promoters pay in advance for the estimated cost of police patrols, but the bill for services from the sanitation and recreation departments and for city equipment comes due only after the event. That makes it too easy for a promoter to skip out on its obligation.

SC Marketing & Events is trying to do just that. The city turned over Vinoy Park to the promoter for Bay Fest, which appeared to be a success. But SC Marketing has failed to pay a $15,000 debt to the city (and is now offering 20 cents on the dollar) and it has failed to pay $35,000 to the Police Athletic League for staffing the event. The city is left to beg sponsor Chrysler/Jeep to pick up that last obligation.

All of this should be an embarrassment to the city. Yet Treiser is still reluctant to change the rules. If the city requires all its expenses to be paid in advance by a promoter, the city might miss out on desirable events, she said. "We consider it to be a calculated risk," Treiser said.

But why take any risk at all? St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront is a very desirable venue for a variety of events. Promoters should be wooing the city rather than the other way around. It may make sense for the city to be more lenient with a promoter who has a proven track record. But when the city lets unproven promoters operate on a promise of payment, that shifts the risk to taxpayers rather than where it belongs, on the promoter.

Maybe St. Petersburg had to be an easy mark in the past, when its downtown was languishing, but that is no longer the case. Officials in the cities of Miami and Jacksonville told Times staff writer Bryan Gilmer they make event promoters pay upfront. "I think (to the promoters) it's just the cost of doing business, and it's the smart thing to do," said Wendy Raymond Hacker, Jacksonville's public relations coordinator.

It's time for St. Petersburg to do the smart thing when it comes to hosting special events.

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