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    5-year deal lets festival stay put

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


    LARGO -- The Bay Area Renaissance Festival will call Largo Central Park home for the next five years.

    City commissioners earlier this month approved a lease agreement with festival organizers that will permit the six-week event to operate here until 2006.

    The contract was ratified on the date of a City Commission-imposed deadline to get the deal done. The new deal stipulates that festival owner Jim Peterson will pay Largo an average of $50,000 a year during the next five years to use land on the east side of Largo Central Park for the event. Until now, Peterson had paid the city $25,000 a year.

    "I think it's a good contract," Mayor Bob Jackson said. "We're getting double the money. We've got some controls."

    Peterson did not return a telephone call for comment.

    This year's festival, which draws about 70,000 visitors to Largo, more than any other event, is scheduled to begin next month.

    Although the festival has become synonymous with Largo in some quarters, some commissioners and city officials have lost their patience with event organizers and some patrons.

    Some who live near the festival site have complained at commission meetings in recent years about traffic tie-ups created by the thousands of festivalgoers. Another complaint by residents has been about unruly patrons.

    Late lease payments to the city have also drawn the ire of many leaders.

    In the end, commissioners agreed to ask staffers to work out a new contract that would address some of those concerns.

    Peterson agreed to end on-site parking after this year's festival, which city officials hope will eliminate some of the traffic problems. He also agreed to remove all permanent structures on the site at the end of next year's festival.

    The contract also mandates late charges if Peterson does not come up with his lease payment on time.

    City officials will grant festival management input on plans for the east side of Largo Central Park.

    The festival also has the right to terminate the lease at any time within 90 days notice.

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