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State of the festival? It's 'alive and well'

Organizers hope to learn from this year's successes and failures. Suncoasters will focus on more promotion, sponsors and out-of-state bands.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The evaluation of the 79th annual Festival of States has begun. Here's what it shows so far: high-quality parades and entertaining band shows, but a less-than-hoped-for number of marching bands and spectators at some events.

That's the initial assessment of the 17-day festival, which ended Sunday, by the Suncoasters, the civic group that organizes the event each spring. The group plans to do a better job of promoting the festival, seeking additional sponsors and attracting out-of-state bands next year.

The festival, once a major tourist attraction, has struggled recently to remain appealing and entertaining in an era when people seem less interested in parades -- a traditional high point.

Festival Executive Director Malcolm King said organizers hope to learn from this year's successes and failures, but are encouraged by the 2000 event, which will be thoroughly evaluated in the coming weeks. Planning has already begun for next year's festival. The Suncoasters also are searching for a replacement for King, who is retiring after six years.

"Generally," King said Monday, "everything went very well."

Thousands of people turned out to listen to blues music, watch inline skaters, eat cotton candy, buy arts and crafts, ogle antique cars, encourage pageant winners, applaud fireworks and snag plastic beads during the festival's two parades.

But one flaw on this year's festival was a dip in out-of-state bands. This was the first year in three decades that the event attracted only one band from outside of Florida -- the Pueblo County (Colo.) Marching Band. Last year, several out-of-state bands dazzled parade spectators. And the Suncoasters even spent $38,000 to bring the much-adored Florida A&M University band to St. Petersburg.

"All in all, even with lack of out-of-town bands, I think the festival is alive and well," said Reginald Ligon, Suncoasters president.

King said several out-of-state high school bands have already said they're coming next year.

And Ligon said the festival would like to attract the FAMU band again, and the band has expressed an interest in coming. But he is unsure whether the festival has the money to attract the popular band and whether the band can fit the local event into its calendar.

"We've got the dinner plate out," he said. "If they can come . . . we are going to try and get them back."

Here's how other events shaped up:

PierFest: Festival planners expanded PierFest, a collection of family-oriented games, music and food at The Pier and Spa Beach, from one day to two days this year because of its popularity in 1999. But the event didn't attract as many people as expected, King said.

He estimates an attendance of 20,000, which is the same as last year. Organizers were hoping for 40,000.

While the three-on-three basketball tournament, inflatable games, diaper derby and the Extreme SportsFest inline skating, skateboard and BMX competition were popular, participation was not as high as expected.

King supports a two-day PierFest, but he said the low numbers this year were probably a result of the festival's poor promotion of the concert stage, which primarily featured local musicians.

"We really need to critique that and see how we can do better on that," he said. "We expected that to be bigger and better. But we were just so late in promoting it."

MusicFest: Attendance also was down at MusicFest, which featured about 400 Pinellas County students playing in jazz bands, choral groups and concert bands.

King said the festival wanted a sell-out show like last year's, but only 1,100 people attended the event at the Mahaffey, which can hold about 2,000 people.

Begun five years ago, MusicFest has become one of the largest venues for county schools to show off their students' musical talents.

"The program itself was excellent," he said. "It was one of best programs. The caliber of the show. The talent. But we were a little disappointed in the turnout.

"I think we just need to promote it separately. I think it's the type of program that would be a good to reach out to some of the senior centers. It's the type of program they would enjoy."

Ligon said he wishes more people knew about MusicFest.

"I think the city as a whole missed seeing our young performing from elementary up to high school," he said. "I was very impressed with the quality of the performance."

Next year, about 1,800 children are expected to participate in MusicFest.

Junior Sungoddess: After a few years of declining participation, the Junior Sungoddess pageant seems to be rebounding, said Jim Brown, chairman of the Junior Sungoddess committee for the Suncoasters.

"We had a period that we had less people competing," he said. "We're not sure why that was."

This year's competition attracted 46 girls from 14 high schools and culminated with the finals at the Palladium.

"One thing I would love to see in the future is to get more people to attend," Brown said. "It really is a delightful evening to see these young ladies that our schools are putting out."

Illuminated night parade: King said the parade seemed to attract more people than last year and to feature better floats.

The night parade has been a part of the Festival of States since 1969. This year, there were 81 floats, bands, horse groups and special acts, including the well-known Indianapolis Police Motorcycle Drill Team, a three-part 90-foot Time Warner float and a 58-foot-long Florida Power float with about 500 10-watt chasing and flickering lights.

King said the Suncoasters have been trying to improve the quality of the float entries by raising the standards to participate, and he believes that really showed this year.

"We thought it was excellent," he said. "It's a popular event with all the lighted floats. It's very colorful."

Day parade: This parade was larger than last year, but the number of marching bands was down. The two-hour parade featured 116 entries and 10 bands, compared with 76 entries and 17 bands in 1999.

The Suncoasters plan to make special efforts to bring out-of-state bands to the 2000 festival, King said. Last fall, as many as eight out-of-state schools committed to this year's festival but chose to attend more attractive competitions, ran out of money or didn't have the time.

High school bands from other states have been invited to perform each year since 1963. Years ago, there were as many as 20 out-of-state bands.

"We're looking to have that back up next year," King said. "We've already heard from several bands very interested in coming. Two bands from Washington state. One band from Carson City, Nev. Three have expressed an interest from South Carolina. One in Georgia."

Some spectators didn't notice a decline in bands.

"I'd come no matter what," said Gulfport resident Susan Westerhoff, who attended the parade with her two grandsons. "I've been coming to the Festival of States for 25 years. I used to bring my children; now I bring my grandkids."

King said there were about 10 floats that had never been in the Festival of States parade.

Together with the city, the festival has entered a float in other area parades to attract attention. Organizers even recruited other floats at Gasparilla in Tampa.

"I think it's helped our exposure," King said.

Parade attendance, King said, was down slightly from last year's, which he called, "the largest parade we had in years."

King said he believes last year's attendance was high because of the FAMU band. This year he estimates there were between 15,000 and 20,000 people lining Central Avenue and Bayshore Drive.

Crowds stood four and five rows deep on Bayshore, but were sparse along shady Central. King hopes to attract more people to Central with the help of downtown merchants.

While the Suncoasters are still checking how the 2000 festival played out financially, King said he believes the festival will either break even or earn a slight profit. Costing between $400,000 and $500,000 annually, the Festival of States is produced by the 250-member Suncoasters, who are known for their civic pride and bright yellow jackets. Each member pays between $200 and $500 in dues, resulting in about $90,000 toward the festival's cost.

The remaining money comes from the city, corporate donors, concessions, ticket sales and event registration. This year, the city contributed $50,000 in cash and $71,000 in in-kind services, such as park use, and various corporations gave about $200,000 in cash.

Looking back on his final festival as executive director, King said, "I feel good about it. We worked hard to make it happen. The overall quality of the festival was very good."

Festival of State Winners

Mr. Sun: Toby Krayer

Sungoddess: Jessica Reider

Sungoddess Court: Annemarie Casesa, Kelly Clayton, Lauren Coppins, Jaimee Crenshaw, Virginia Gower, Lindsey Luxa, Kiley Mahaffey, Jaimie Mickey, Catherine Rhodes, Mandy Swearingen and Allison Turner.

Junior SunGoddess: Courtney Denise Hill, St. Petersburg High School

First runner-up: Ashley Patterson, Admiral Farragut Academy

Second runner-up: Amy Brause, Boca Ciega High School

2000 Float Winners

"Sweepstakes," Most Outstanding, Krewe of Aquila

"Governor's Award," Best from Outside St. Petersburg, Busch Gardens

"Mayor's Award," Best from Inside St. Petersburg, Sembler Co.

"Director's Award," Best Development of Parade Theme, U.S. Postal Service

"Judge's Award," Exceptional Merit/Non-Commercial, Buffalo Soldiers

"Sungoddess Award," Best Use of Color, City of Clearwater

"Ed Thurston Award," Best Display of Humor, Signature Bank

"Mr. Sun Award," Best Special Effects, YMCA

"President's Award," Most Entertaining, Gaucho

2000 Mulbiermotorsports.com Festival Bed Race

Best decorated:

1st place: GTE Directory Listing/Directory Management

2nd place: GTE Directory/Ad Production

3rd place: Sun Isle Drivers

Most team-spirited:

1st place: YMCA

2nd place: GTE Directory Listing/Directory Management

3rd place: GTE Directory/Account Management

Race:

1st place: GTE Directory Listing/Directory Management

2nd place: Merrill Lynch

3rd place: Rotary/Interact

Overall champion: GTE Directory Listing/Directory Management, team captain Joe Haynsworth

KidsArt Awards Pinellas County Schools

$100 awar

Bardmoor Elementar

Blanton Elementary

Cypress Woods Elementary

Lakewood Elementary

Maximo Elementary

Mildred Helms Elementary

Northwest Elementary

Southward Elementary

Tyrone Elementary

Westgate Elementary

Awards of Merit

Kaylyn Plumb, St. Petersburg Christian School; Amy Dayton, art teacher

Amanda Wilson, Northwest Elementary; Kurt Wright, art teacher

Jessica Goodwin, Belcher Elementary; Connie Boler, art teacher

John Schmittau, Fuguitt Elementary; Lynn Mask, art teacher

TASCO/Sports Authority Extreme Sportsfest 2000

Skateboarding:

1. Michael Jacob

2. Philip Toye

3. Corey Sergent

* * *

Intermediate:

1. Paul Bessey

2. Jamair Evans

3. Noel Stoltz

* * *

Expert:

1. Allen Russell

2. Tullie Carlton

3. Will Beasley

Inline:

Beginner:

1. Steve Calabrese

2. Beau Schlesinger

3. Cody Billings

* * *

Intermediate:

1. Stephen Malandro

2. Jeff Carlisle

3. Earl Robbins

* * *

Expert:

1. Mike Lilly

2. Chase Harding

3. Danny Delaney

BMX:

Beginner:

1. Chad Luppino

2. Justin Spruille

3. Chad Moore

* * *

Intermediate:

1. Mark Mulville

2. Hunter Vickers

3. Allen Sherley

3. Mark Riendeau

* * *

Expert:

1. Sean Albright

2. Luis Pinzon

3. Nick Mevoli

Auto Show Award Winners

Mayor's trophy, Alain Cerf, 1937 Tatra T 87

President's trophy, Richard Leppla, 1959 Cadillac El Dorado

Tire Kingdom trophy: Lowell Carlson, 1937 Cadillac

Thunder 103.5 trophy: Norman Ellis, 1967 Chevelle SS 396

Best of show: Bill Burgun, 1952 Pontiac Delivery

'Final Three' Basketball Tournament

Teen division, 1st place: "Jackets," Elliott Anderson, Emery Anderson, Ryan Barbeau (MVP), Billy Tapp.

2nd place: "Final Four," Javon Jackson, Antez Smart, Brandon Spivey, Brandon Williams.

* * *

Open division, 1st place: "Bananas," Ali Zaitouni, Tim Mcgee (MVP), James McMullin, Sean McMullin.

2nd place: "Triple Threat," Doug Scull, Eric Dumford, Matt Krewnski (MVP), Chris Myer

* * *

Adult division, 1st place: "Bailing Out of Control," Mahmoud Mehdi, Mountazar Mehdi, Ahmed Mehdi, Carlos Land (MVP).

2nd place: "Waxing Winsors," Mike Winsor (MVP), Troy Conway, Gary Flemming, Steven Winsor

* * *

Three Point Shooting Competition, 1st place: Darnell McDonald

Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

American Vision (art) nominees: Julie Ferguson, Pinellas County Center for the Arts (PCCA) at Gibbs High School; Adrienne Hathaway, PCCA; Sarajane Maran, PCCA; Daniel Nelson, PCCA; Ashley Valentine, PCCA.

American Voice (writing) nominees: Amy Bohler, Countryside High School; Virak Prak, Bay Point Middle School; Jennifer Smith, East Lake High School; Monica Wrobel, Dunedin High School.

Gold Key Awards for art: Andrew Carlisle, Eva Dameron, Alyssa DeVasher, Dimitar Dimitrov, Derek Donnelly, Tamika Gibbs, Eric Manche, Kevin McKesson, Timothy Mettler, Daniel Nelson, Quentin Richardson, Gabrielle Roberts, Aaron Schmitt, John Stockton and Thien Tran, all students at PCCA; Sam Davis and Vincent Hatch, John Hopkins Middle School; Jason DiRienzo, Chris Hammett, Karen Mulvey, Daniel Shields and Matthew Williams, Seminole High School; Timothy Grab, Palm Harbor University High School; Jamie Hansche and Agnieszka Zielinski, Northeast High; Ben Nelson and Stephanie Norcross, Largo High; Linawa Savid, Clearwater High; Hunter Schulz, East Lake High School.

Gold Key Awards for writing: Sarah Auxier, Isaac Dodd and Elise Sheppard, Bay Point Middle School; Vincent Lacey, St. Petersburg High School; Ryan Minnelly, Dunedin High School; Lovella Patolilic, East Lake High School.

2000 Sidewalk Chalk Art Competition:

* * *

1st place: Regina Harvey, Tyrone Middle School

2nd place: Leo Meirose, St. Paul's School

3rd place: Shannon D'arcy, St. John's School

4th place: Nicole Schurr, Kennedy Middle School

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