Storms Put Festival/Parade in Jeopardy
By James Michaels
At 3:00 a.m., last Sunday, June 20, 2010 as most of South Florida was sleeping, members of the board of directors of Pride of Greater Fort Lauderdale, producers of the annual Stonewall Street Festival and Parade were on Wilton Drive watching work crews shut down traffic on Wilton Drive. They were also watching the skies and heavy lightening in the distance moving in their direction. Standing ready, four tent crews were on hand to start assembling the tents used in the festival as soon as all traffic stopped.
On schedule, The Drive was successfully closed by 4:00 a.m. the tent crews started unloading the vans full of equipment. Erection of the tents were estimated to take three to four hours and the exhibitors were permitted to start setting up their booths at 7:00 a.m. However, just as trucks were being unloaded, the rain started and heavy lighting caused work crews to stop and take cover from the storm.
“The men couldn’t carry 10-foot steel poles down the street in the lightening,” said a PGFL spokesperson. “We all just sat in our cars waiting for the weather to clear.” At almost 5:30 a.m., the skies cleared and the workers resumed the construction, an hour and a half behind schedule. The early morning weather caused a cascading effect which affected the entire day and put the success of the festival in jeopardy.
At 9:00 a.m., tents were finished being constructed but many exhibitors were just starting or still setting up their booths. Exhibitors who already had their booths set up started taking tables and chairs away from tents that were set up but not yet occupied. PGFL officials were busy running around, redistributing the tables and chairs answering complaints from the exhibitors that no longer had their equipment when they arrived. Non-PFGL individuals assisted such as a representative from SunTrust bank and photographer Michael Murphy. All exhibition booths were scheduled to be completed by 9:30 a.m. but many did not have their tables and chairs back yet by that time.
At 11:00 a.m., the scheduled starting time for the parade, Wilton Drive was still filled with cars and trucks of the exhibitors. PGFL postponed the start of the parade by one-half hour in order to clear the streets, but there were still unclaimed vehicles blocking the road at 11:20 when a second postponement was ordered so PGFL could make one last attempt to find the owners or have the vehicles towed. The parade finally stepped off at 11:45.
Tensions were running high at the parade staging area
as participants waiting in the hot sun and several arguments broke out between groups and the PGFL parade coordinator. Along the parade route, spectators patiently waited wondering what had happened.
At conclusion of the parade, stage crews got confused and followed the schedule given and started the entertainment without holding the official opening ceremonies which was to include a proclamation by Wilton Manors Mayor Gary Resnick declaring June 20, 2010 as Gay Pride Day in Wilton Manors and his presentation of the Keys to the City of Wilton Manors to parade Grand Marshals Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley. Resnick, Bouska and Parshley were gathered together at almost 1:00 p.m. for the presentation then the entertainment continued.
What was not completed were the bar and tickets tents which should have been located in the middle of Wilton Drive – eight were planned. “The street bars are our one major source of income,” said the PGFL spokesperson, “and that major source of income weren’t completed as we were trying to put out fires in all other directions.” Only 4 of the planned 8 ticket/bar booths were eventually set up.
PGFL was to sell $1 tickets for all food and beverages served in the street. The street bars and the food vendors were to accept the tickets only and not cash. Bartenders were to be paid from tips collected. However, the onslaught of attendees waiting for food and drink without tickets caused vendors and bars to accept cash.
Parking posed an additional problem. There was to be a “soft close” of N.E. 4 Avenue/Wilton Drive from N.E. 16 Street to N.E. 20 Street with a “hard close” of Wilton Drive from N.E. 20 Street north to Dixie Highway. A soft close was to permit “local traffic” of residents in the area to come and go from their houses and permit attendees to park their cars at Richardson and Hagen Parks and the two rented parking lots at Fort Lauderdale High School. However, while trying to clear Wilton Drive for the parade at 11:00 the parks and high school lots were empty. PGFL officials found out that a hired security guard had misunderstood his instructions and didn’t permit any traffic in the area. The guard had to be ordered to open the up the street.
PGFL officials said they made contingency plans for the usual late afternoon and early evening June rain. They figured that if the rain starts, participants would evacuate to the local bars and clubs or go home and then return to the streets after the rain stopped. In order to encourage their return, they scheduled their headline entertainment for the evening hours when the temperatures would be cooler and the rain would have cleared.
The remainder of the day continued without much incident until the closing of the event at the end of the day. Staffers at the main stage thought that since the entertainment started late, they could continue past their 9:00 p.m. deadline to shut down the show. When PGFL officials realized the show was still going on at 9:30 p.m., they ran to the stage to shut down the show.
“We promised to use the full one-half mile of Wilton Drive and we did,” said the PGFL spokesperson. “We promised we would draw a record crowd that would fill the street and keep people on the street throughout the day. And though the final numbers aren’t in yet, it appears we did that too. We promised that that we would hold an event that people wouldn’t forget for a long time and by the comments left on our Facebook page, we also accomplished that.”