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St. Petersburg events fall far short of goals

Concerts and festivals are lightly attended. Some blame the events in Tampa and some blame poor marketing.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Super Bowl weekend has been just another night for St. Petersburg.

Although just across Tampa Bay from the blockbuster football game of the year, St. Petersburg could have been hundreds of miles from the Gasparilla and Bud Bowl mania of Tampa.

St. Petersburg's special Friday night edition of the Get Downtown street festival, which turns Central Avenue into a pedestrian mall with a band and beer, drew only a few dozen, chilly people.

"Terrible," said Charles White Eagle, who said he might as well have stayed home in Venice, Fla., rather than set up his booth selling -- well, not selling many -- Native American crafts items at the event. "The Super Bowl is not turning out to be the moneymaking opportunity it was supposed to be."

It was difficult to tell whether there were any concertgoers at all Friday night at the 2001 Superfest in Vinoy Park, which features reincarnated versions of oldies bands like the Temptations and Drifters.

The event remained dead Saturday.

"It doesn't look like there's anyone here," said David Muff, 27, gazing through the fence at the carnival midway and concert stage.

"I've never seen an event (in Vinoy Park) where nobody was here," saidSteve Muff, David's father. "They must all be over at Gasparilla."

People downtown rode the pink Looper trolley from museum to museum Saturday for "Arts on the Ball," the city's only officially sanctioned Super Bowl event. Most interviewed were southern Pinellas County residents, not the out-of-town visitors the city marketing staff targeted with the event.

"I had seen it in the paper," said Joyce Sterrett, who moved here with her husband, Bob, in October. They attended the Florida Holocaust Museum and Florida International Museum on Saturday.

Perhaps 1,000 people attended street musical performances for the event, city cultural affairs director Ann Wykell said.

A Saucony footrace Friday night drew a few hundred runners, and the new BayWalk restaurant and movie complex downtown seemed as well-attended Friday and Saturday as it has since opening.

City Council member Jay Lasita speculated that too many events around Tampa Bay were competing for too few Super Bowl visitors.

"If there are mistakes made, you try to learn from the mistakes," he said. "We need to come up with a more effective way of coordinating."

A private concert promotion company called Dee>Art Enterprises staged the Superfest event, putting it together at the last minute after learning that St. Petersburg planned no major concert event.

The promoter persuaded the city to sponsor it before city officials learned that Dee>Art had never produced a similar event, even though it had led the city to believe it had. City officials let the show go on anyway. The city hopes to receive more than $30,000 in reimbursement for sanitation, police protection and other city services.

Some people Saturday said they decided not to attend Superfest because it cost too much. Box office workers charged some people $15 and some $20.

"A hundred bucks to get in the door?" Joe Matthews of St. Petersburg said, as he and a group of five adults piled back into a sport utility vehicle to leave. "If it was managed a little better, people would come in. Five bucks to get in would have done it."

Kathy and Melvin Mitchell of Pinellas Park did pay $15 apiece but left after 45 minutes disappointed.

"The food was terrible," Melvin Mitchell said.

City Council member Bill Foster was one of the few attendees Saturday evening. He said the event was well-staged but poorly marketed.

"It's beautifully done," Foster said. "The vendors are here. It looks wonderful. People just don't know it's here, and that's where the problem is. Something like this could have been just out of sight."

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