According to a 2016 economic impact study, the St. Pete Pride Festival brought in $20 million for the city coffers. Approximately 14,000 hotel rooms were booked.
That was two years ago. And the LGBT parade and street market, which is already, officially the biggest Pride celebration in Florida, has only grown in size and stature. The 16th annual Pride Festival includes five days of activities, starting with a reception Wednesday and culminating with Saturday’s party and parade along Bayshore Drive, and Sunday’s street festival in the Grand Central District.
Luke Blankenship, St. Pete Pride’s executive director, says that about 50 percent of the 200,000 expected to watch the parade will come from Pinellas County, the rest from out of town. The Grand Central festival will attract an estimated 50,000.
And all those people have to eat somewhere. So the event is a windfall for the city.
It is, of course, a celebration of diversity and acceptance, with an emphasis on gay culture. But the Pride Festival is all about inclusivity, which means it’s not about “us and them.” It’s about “all of us.”
Blankenship, who joined the Pride organization as a volunteer, had been interim director since last fall, so the 2018 isn’t his first rodeo, as it were. He was named to the top spot just last month. “It’s really just another year to me, with a few more responsibilities,” he laughs.
Blankenship, 24, is at the top of a pyramid of board members, staff and volunteers. “I try not to look at the scope of it, because that scares me a little bit,” he says of the event. “But being more detail-oriented, and just taking it one task at a time, makes doing a large parade and festival much easier. And then it comes together.”
In truth, things are a lot easier than they were 16 years ago. “When we started,” Blankenship said, “the city of course had a different administration in office. And it was not LGBT-friendly. And now we have Rick Kriseman, who supported the LGBT community well before it was politically acceptable. He accepted our weekend with open arms, and he’s done a fantastic job of supporting our community ever since.”
According to Blankenship, the city donates 30 percent of its service cost (security, sanitation et cetera) for the event – approximately $35,000.
New this year, at South Straub Park, is a family-friendly area, with games and activities, produced by Great Explorations Children’s Museum and SunTrust. There will also be live music and other performances, live art demonstrations and more, beginning at 2 p.m. The parade begins at 7:15.
Saturday’s events are capped with a fireworks display over the bay at 9:45.
Sunday at 11 a.m., everything moves to Grand Central. More than 250 vendors will line Central Avenue between 22nd and 28th Streets.
“It’s an amazing street market, filled with such a diverse community of businesses,” said Blankenship. “You’ve got the corporate companies, then you’ve got the small businesses and nonprofits, which encompass 90 percent of the booths there.”
Blankenship’s first festival as executive director is officially over at 5 p.m. Sunday. But he won’t quite be done yet.
“The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is opening up a health center in their Out of the Closet thrift store the next day, Monday, at 10 a.m.,” he said. “The mayor will be there to open it, and so I’m going to try to get to that.
“But around 11, I’m planning on sleeping for five days.”
The City of St. Petersburg, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater and the AIDS Healthcare Network are presenting sponsors of the Pride Festival; other sponsors include Wells Fargo, Strategic Property Partners, Valpak and HCA Pinellas County Hospitals.
Wednesday, June 20: St. Pete Pride Reception, 7-9 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts. $30.
Thursday, June 21: Rooftop Kickoff, 7-9 p.m. at the Kimpton Hotel Zamora. Free.
Friday, June 22: SP2 concert w/Spazmatics, Rolando and others. 7-10 p.m. North Straub Park. Free.
Saturday, June 23: Saturday Party begins at 2 p.m. at Straub Park; Pride Parade at 7:15 p.m. Free.
Sunday, June 24: Pride Festival street market 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Central Avenue between 22nd Street and 28th Street. Free.
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