Change of scenery: St. Pete Pride to move downtown from longtime Grand Central District home

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The mega-popular St. Pete Pride Festival has for years called the eclectic Grand Central District home.

As the annual celebration grew in size, so too did the surrounding area. Hip restaurants like the Queen's Head showed up along the block, along with stylish coffee shops and chic boutiques. Just to the north, the Kenwood neighborhood, with its lovable old bungalows, also flourished. But now, citing a need for parking and a desire to attract an international festival, the organizers of the fest announced this week a plan to move the event to St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront.

Members of the organization insist the change in locale has been in the works for years.

“This has been a topic among the board for the last eight or nine years,” said St Pete Pride’s longest serving board member, Stanley Solomons, in a media release announcing the move. “We were always familiar and comfortable with the Grand Central District. But regardless of my fondness with the current location, the time to move came when the logistics and security measures changed.”

For years, the parade used a large parking lot at 3rd Avenue North and 31st Street as its staging area, and the parade route ran from there to Central and 21st Street, mostly along Central. [Disclosure: CL has been a past sponsor of St. Pete Pride.]

In 2017, it's expected to launch from Albert Whitted Park and run north on Bayshore Boulevard, right along the downtown St. Pete waterfront, to Vinoy Park

In recent years, Pride morphed from a daytime parade into a two-day celebration with a Saturday-night parade and a Sunday celebration with vendors and entertainment, as well as several related peripheral events leading up to and during the fest.

Eric Skains, executive director of St. Pete Pride, said that as the party grew, so did its economic impact.

“In 2016 we had an independent economic impact survey conducted that found 50% of attendees come from outside of Pinellas County and stay an average of 2.6 nights,” Skains said in a press release. “Since the change from a one-day to a multi-day event, the economic impact has grown from $10-million to over $20-million. By giving more options to attendees, we hope this impact will continue to grow as the event becomes more accessible to them.”

As news of the change spread over social media, so did anger over the move, with some complaining it constituted a break from the festival's grassroots origins and the spirit of Pride itself in favor of a more photogenic backdrop — Dali museum, sailboats and all — intended to attract international prestige. Former city councilman and recent Grand Central District head Jeff Danner called the move "a shame."

“The whole history of Pride was that it was a riot in the street,” he said. “It was because a riot in the street became a street festival.”

But organizers insist that they want to honor Grand Central District's legacy as the festival's longtime locale by adding a third event, a Friday-night celebration, that will take place there.

“It was extremely important to the board that the Grand Central District remain part of St Pete Pride Weekend,” Skains said. “Grand Central will always be a special place for the LGBTQ community. We fully intend to work closely with the district to ensure the Friday night event is supported by our sponsors and marketed equally with the parade and festival.”

This is a developing story; check back later for more details.

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