By Cliff Dunn
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – On Monday, Feb. 13, the Wilton Manors City Commission approved a motion to allow the Rainbow Business Coalition (RBC) to host the city’s annual Stonewall Street Festival on Sunday June 24. The RBC was launched in 2010 as an association of LGBT businesses and community leaders to serve both residents’ and merchants’ interests in promoting sustainable economic growth as well as market reach and share for its members.
The Stonewall Pride event, in one form or another, has taken place in South Florida every year since 2000, when the not-for-profit Pride of Greater Fort Lauderdale (PGFTL) was formed to produce the first local Stonewall Street Festival. The event and its yearly sequels recall the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, which represent the beginning of the fight for LGBT rights in the U.S.
Reece Darham, co-chair of the RBC, says the organization and its members take the heritage event with which they have been entrusted very seriously. Darham says that the community’s businesses are also uniquely positioned to make the event a hoped-for success.
“Wilton Manors is a unique setting, and the businesses here—bars, restaurants, and the numerous vendors and merchants who support them—have hands-on experience in knowing what works and what doesn’t work to attract both locals and visitors to a major event of this undertaking.
Darham and the RBC cut their collective teeth last year in event planning and management when the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) held its annual global convention in Greater Fort Lauderdale, with Wilton Manors serving as “ground zero” for many of the largest social events and activities, including an outdoor concert at the city’s Hagen Park.
“The business leaders of our community did a superlative job in bringing world-class entertainment to our little corner of paradise, and after 12 years of local Stonewall events, we know and understand the demographics of these things, as well as how they positively—and negatively—impact the community.
One example of the kind of operational changes that Darham, RBC co-chair Jason Tamanini, and their colleagues are bringing to bear is the organization’s negotiations with liquor brand representatives to develop a price-point for the sale of liquor at outdoor “satellite” bars during the event, which will be called Stonewall Summer Pride.
“The advantage of RBC dealing with liquor vendors for the street bars is that the prices in these satellite bars will be consistent, as will the product they will sell,” Darham explains.
This means that if Bar X has a street-side, satellite bar during the Sunday festival, it will be selling the same liquor brands as Bar Y and Bar Z, and at the same prices. These brands will be consistent with the event sponsors’ brands, but won’t impact what an establishment sells inside their permanent locations, or the pricing.
“We want people—customers as well as hospitality vendors—to know that whosoever is selling to the public from street side will be doing so from the same page as everyone else,” Darham added. One result will be the bars will only be competing with each other, rather than with each other and the event’s organizers.
Another advantage of this business model is that it encourages the participation of smaller establishments, as well as those businesses that are not located on Wilton Drive.
“Let’s face it,” Darham adds, “there are many terrific businesses, hospitality and otherwise, that participate in the joys and sorrows of our community which aren’t located in the ‘downtown’ area. Ken and Lloyd from Scandals Saloon and The Stable were especially ‘key’ in ensuring the success of the IGLTA convention last summer. They and many others are very much a part of what makes this such an amazing place to live and work. We want them to get the same benefit from this heritage festival as will Jackson and Mark [of Bill’s Filling Station and Georgie’s Alibi], Craig [of Boom], and our city’s other bar owners and restaurateurs. And the bars on Federal Highway like Mona’s, Cubby Hole, The Depot—just ask their customers: they are as gay as any bar on the Drive,” he adds with a laugh.
The organizers plan for Stonewall Summer Pride to take place on Wilton Drive as well as at the city’s Hagen Richardson Parks between 12 p.m. and 10 p.m. on June 24. Committees have been established to oversee marketing and publicity, logistics and site planning, sponsorship opportunities, vendor relations, as well as the parade, which will take place from NE 20th Street to Five-Points and be held around dusk, with the exact time to be determined.
Something else that’s new for 2012 is the organizers’ desire for Stonewall to be a truly community-wide affair. “This is not going to be solely a ‘Gay’ Pride event,” Darham notes. “This is a ‘Community’ Pride occasion, and to that end we want to encourage the participation of the traditionally ‘straight’ bars and nightspots to help promote our entire community.”
Krishan Manners, President and CEO of Wilton Manors Main Street, Inc. couldn’t agree more. “This community is turning a page in its maturation,” he notes. “We have such a unique mixture of talented individuals, gay and straight, who have shown time and time again that they can come together and build memorable and lasting creations, whether it’s a park or an annual destination-event.”
Manners adds that the RBC has some Aces up its sleeve. “When you have the support of bars and business owners as well as that of the city, you have two key components for organizing and holding a successful event on the Drive.”
Darham and his RBC associates have hopes that success for Stonewall Summer Pride will resonate in the months after the event is finished. “A profitable Stonewall means that RBC will have sufficient funds to hold future community events, as well as paying for things like closing the Drive for ‘Wicked Weekend’ on Halloween, and New Year’s, as well.”
What about a plaque to honor the group’s first chairperson? “Get out,” Darham says, only half joking. “I have work to do.”
Photo: In times past, Stonewall Pride sustained businesses in the summer.
Now we may get to see if the reverse is also true.