Event questions arise as clock ticks
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- With only eight weeks left before Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, St. Petersburg city staff members persuaded the City Council last week to sponsor a concert event the same weekend called 2001 Super Fest.
But it turns out the company putting on the show doesn't have as much experience as the city believed.
For example, one of the partners of Dee>Art Enterprises claimed on an application form that he produced a huge Milwaukee festival. He really helped run concession stands selling roasted corn.
Marketing Director Anita Treiser assured the council that Dee>Art Enterprises Inc. was an experienced and financially sound production company that can build a fence around Vinoy Park, erect three stages, coordinate scores of volunteers and come up with an estimated $35,000 to reimburse the city for police protection, cleanup and other expenses.
Dee>Art partners Arthur H. Johnson Jr. and Deborah Jones say they have signed the Drifters, the Temptations and local acts to attract a family crowd to the three-day event. They plan to charge $15 per person per day.
But Jones and Johnson cannot document running a festival or concert event even close to the magnitude of what they propose here, despite what Treiser told the council and despite Johnson's claims to the contrary on an application seeking to make Super Fest an official event of the Super Bowl, Jan. 28 in Tampa.
Though the Jan. 26-28 date for Super Fest draws close, Johnson and Jones say they are still negotiating with bands. They plan to pocket a profit and donate part of the proceeds to the Suncoast Boys and Girls Club, which has committed volunteers and expects to receive some $50,000 from the concert and celebrity golf tournament.
Super Fest was denied official Super Bowl event status because its application was incomplete, said Michael Kelly, executive director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Task Force.
Still, Treiser and her staff relied on assertions in the task force application that Dee>Art had produced a black arts festival in Atlanta in 1998 and the Milwaukee Summer Fest in July of this year.
The task force application asked, "Have you produced special events of a similar or larger scale?" Johnson checked "Yes" and listed the two events, also saying he had worked as a vendor at the Atlanta Super Bowl this year.
Milwaukee's annual Summer Fest is bigger than the proposed Super Fest. It includes concerts on several stages. But a non-profit company called Milwaukee World Festival Inc. -- not Dee>Art -- works full time year-round to produce the festival, company spokeswoman Patrice Harris said.
"I asked everyone in the office," she said. "They don't know an Art Johnson or a Deborah Jones."
Johnson listed Robert Thomas of Milwaukee as a reference for Summer Fest. Thomas said Johnson helped him operate his corn roasting stands at the festival, which Johnson acknowledged Tuesday.
The annual National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta also is produced by its own year-round foundation.
"We performed there," Johnson told a reporter. "Why does this feel like an interrogation?"
Johnson and rapper Todd "Speech" Thomas, formerly of the Grammy-winning group Arrested Development, toured with a dance and educational act, playing several colleges and universities and the Atlanta festival, Johnson said. Robert Thomas, who is Todd Thomas' father, corroborated that.
"I don't think he's handled anything that big before," Thomas said. "But if they're well-organized, I think he knows enough about the theory and about what brings people out."
Treiser thought the company had been in charge of the two festivals.
"I did not check on all of them, and I'll need to follow up with the (staff) person who did make the call on the Milwaukee one," Treiser said Tuesday.
Dee>Art incorporated in Florida in July. During an interview in the company's tiny, one-room office at 424 Central Ave., Johnson said he has operated a dance studio, construction company, restaurant and jazz club and that he brings "all that experience" to Super Fest.
Tierra Verde consultant George Farrell is working for Dee>Art and helped pitch the event to Treiser and city special events coordinator Thomas "Jet" Jackson. Farrell said he is helping finance the event.
Farrell coordinated an entertainment festival to coincide with the Final Four basketball tournament in St. Petersburg in 1999. The event attracted 1,000 people per day to a lot at Central Avenue and 34th Street. Super Fest aims to bring 30,000 people to the city's waterfront.
Council member Bill Foster raised questions Thursday when Treiser asked for a waiver of the rule that organizers must apply for city sponsorship six months in advance.
"The eyes of the world will be on the Tampa Bay area," Foster said. "I just want to make doubly certain this will be a quality event. The national media will be here."
He reacted with dismay Tuesday.
"I was reluctant to approve it, but because of (city staffers') representations, I went ahead and voted for it," Foster said.
He said the city should have planned its own big-splash Super Bowl companion event from the beginning, instead of working with Dee>Art at the last minute.
"We've known since (Raymond James Stadium) was built that we were going to host the Super Bowl," he said. "To me, it was a no-brainer."
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