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County cancels kids dance

Promoters of the back to school event make allegations of racism as one reason for the cancellation.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


UNIVERSITY NORTH -- It began, as most fiascos do, with the best of intentions.

What started out as a back to school dance for kids in an at-risk community ended Friday with cancellation, accusations of racism and several worried county officials.

On this, everyone agrees: In May, Tony Daniel, who works for Family Entertainment in Tampa, approached an employee of the county's Parks and Recreation Department about an event he wanted to promote at the new $7-million University Area Community Center Complex on N 22nd Street.

It was to be held in the complex's gymnasium Aug. 5, and would roughly coincide with Wednesday's scheduled appearance of rap artists Snoop Dog, Eminem and Dr. Dre and others at the Ice Palace.

For a while, it seemed like a good idea, and Willie Outland, who manages the county's park facilities next door, gave it his blessing. Daniel's company paid a deposit.

After that, the stories differ.

"I explained I wanted to have a dance here just for the kids in this community," said Outland, who became concerned when Daniel faxed him a copy of his plans for the event.

Daniel had begun to advertise all over Tampa and Hillsborough County, Outland said, planned to charge $8 to $10 admission and sell food and drink.

Local kids cannot afford that, Outland said. It also violated the terms of the lease agreement of the non-profit University Area Community Development Corporation, which runs the complex.

In addition, the fliers said the event was to be held at the University Area Community Park's 2,500-square-foot recreation center, and not the new complex's much larger gym, located several yards away.

Outland, who says he never signed a contract, said he tried to explain the situation to Daniel.

For his part, Daniel says Outland did sign a contract, and that plans for the dance were going well until the fliers began to appear in the neighborhoods.

The posters featured pictures of three rap artists, two of whom are black.

"Someone saw a poster, and it tripped a racial switch in them," Daniel said.

In addition, he said, county parks and recreation officials, as well as members of the county commission and State Rep. Victor Crist, R-Tampa Palms, "said they didn't like what we had in this literature."

They were concerned about the rap artists, Daniel said, and language in the fliers that said "in celebration of" the performers, there would be a "party after party" at the Outpost, across the street from the Ice Palace, as well as the back to school dance and talent show at the "University Community Rec Center."

Crist and the county officials misunderstood the flier, Daniel said, and did not realize the Outpost was a separate location, but thought it was slang for a type of party.

Then officials told him that Outland did not have the authority to approve the dance, Daniel said, and that the University Area Complex was still under construction, even though it has held other events in its gym.

What it comes down to, Daniel said, is, "they can have certain events, but if they're under white control."

Thursday, Assistant County Administrator Pat Bean sent a three-page letter to Daniel and Family Entertainment owner Bill Haase, outlining why the event could not take place and asking if he and Daniel could meet with the county Friday to reach an "amicable resolution."

Parks and recreation official Peter Fowler said the county had returned Haase's deposit, and planned to have off-duty sheriff's deputies at the park Saturday to alert anyone who might show up that the event was canceled.

But Fowler added that Daniel told him, "There's going to be a dance, or there's going to be a protest."

Daniel said the entire incident reminded him of other times that blacks have had events shut down by white officials, and that he planned to contact his attorney.

Daniel, known in the past for his contentious appearances at City Council meetings, was convicted in 1995 of spray painting slogans, including "F-- the police" on buildings in Tampa. He was sentenced to four months in county jail, but his conviction was later overturned because of an error in jury selection.

- Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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