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    Renaissance festival accepts city deal

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


    LARGO -- Just hours before a city-imposed deadline, the Bay Area Renaissance Festival on Friday agreed to a contract to stay in Largo, city officials said.

    Festival owner Jim Peterson "is not agreeable with all the specific terms of the contract, but he understands this is the best deal he can get from us," said Henry Schubert, assistant city manager.

    Peterson did not return telephone calls for comment.

    Largo was poised to call off negotiations with Peterson on Friday and draft a contract on its own terms for approval at a Feb. 6 City Commission meeting.

    City Manager Steven Stanton acknowledged Largo had been lax in applying guidelines set forth in past contracts with festival organizers.

    This time, Largo is serious, Stanton said.

    If Peterson didn't indicate he would sign a contract by the Feb. 6 City Commission meeting, the city planned to order festival staff off the grounds, where they are currently setting up stages for this year's festival, tentatively scheduled to begin March 10, Stanton said.

    A draft contract was faxed to Peterson on Friday afternoon, but it is subject to approval by the commission.

    Until Friday, there were a host of areas the city and Peterson couldn't seem to agree on, Schubert said.

    Peterson wanted to pay the city $240,000 over five years; the contract calls for $250,000.

    Peterson wanted to extend the contract at his discretion; the city will talk about it in five years.

    Peterson said he needed to occupy the festival site for five weeks prior to festival; the city says three weeks are plenty.

    City officials are pleased with the new contract and said it is more fair than previous contracts.

    "Financially, the other contracts were very, very good for the Renaissance Festival, and I think the city was not getting fair market value for use of the park," Schubert said.

    The Bay Area Renaissance Festival, a six-week event held on about 30 acres near Largo Central Park, has been controversial in recent years. Some residents who live near the festival have complained about loud and rude patrons. At the same time, other residents use the festival as an annual fundraising event.

    For years, the festival has been synonymous with Largo. Last year, about 70,000 people attended the festival, bringing more visitors to Largo than any other event.

    Despite the crowds, city officials said there is more to Largo than the festival. Stanton said he did not think Peterson understood that.

    - Staff Writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this report.

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