Renaissance fest wants old parking spot
By MICHAEL SANDLER
LARGO -- Parking was never much of a concern during the Renaissance. But for the costumed merrymakers in the city who plan on celebrating the historic transformation from medieval to modern times, a convenient spot may be a thing of the past.
Organizers for the 2002 Bay Area Renaissance Festival, which begins in March, are hoping the city will put off new parking restrictions one more year and allow festival patrons to pull into the open field adjoining the fair grounds at Largo Central Park.
The 10 acres traditionally have been used as a parking lot since the festival began nearly two decades ago. But the land soon will be home to the city's new library.
Earlier this year, festival owner Jim Peterson agreed to move parking to several off-site locations, a key term in a five-year deal to keep the festival in Largo. But with construction not yet under way, he has written City Manager Steve Stanton to request a variance for the upcoming festival in March and April.
"If the construction of the library has not started and the land is sitting there, the patrons should be allowed to do what they have historically done," Peterson said by phone from his office in Minnesota. "It's fairly innocuous."
That opinion is not shared by all, especially not in the neighborhood surrounding the fair grounds.
Parking on the field has generated excessive traffic and noise across from the cultural center and has been an inconvenience to nearby residents of Park Place.
Commissioner Pat Burke is among the 126 homeowners there. She said living nearby is only part of the reason she will hold Peterson to his contract. She said the precedent is most important.
"This is the document he signed," she said. "It does not say anything based upon certain things happening."
Stanton said the city staff plans to recommend upholding the terms of the contract.
"They agreed this year they would find off-site parking," said Stanton. "Now that the festival is in sight, they are going to be requesting that we waive that provision. From a staff perspective, that is frustrating."
Should the city deny the variance request, patrons would have to park at one of five designated locations and take buses to the festival. In addition to having off-site parking, Peterson agreed to remove all booths and permanent structures from the site at the end of the six-week festival.
Peterson will pay the city $40,000 to hold the festival in Largo this year, and nearly $50,000 in each of the ensuing years of his contract. That's up from $25,000 last year, when the festival drew about 70,000 people.
Not everyone opposes some leeway.
Mayor Bob Jackson said the city has always benefited from having the festival in Largo and should understand the value of being a good partner in business.
"They've always parked on that field," said Jackson. "If we are in partnership with them, we ought to make it easy."
Peterson said he will make his request but will accept the city's final decision.
"I will go along with all of these terms," he said. "But I think reasonable people should be reasonable."
-- Michael Sandler can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or email@example.com.
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