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St. Pete kicks off annual Movies in the Park event

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Published:   |   Updated: May 1, 2013 at 05:11 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

A younger, fedora-wearing, bullwhip-cracking Harrison Ford will grace a large screen in North Straub Park Thursday as “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” kicks off a month of free classic films downtown.

Now in its fourth year, Movies in the Park draws hundreds of people downtown each week in May and October. Put on by St. Petersburg Preservation, a nonprofit aimed at maintaining and protecting local historical sites, the event isn't a big moneymaker. Its value lies in the sense of identity it helps cultivate for St. Petersburg and, specifically, for its downtown waterfront, organizers say.

“We try to make sure that St. Pete continues to be special and have a sense of place,” said Peter Belmont, president of St. Petersburg Preservation.

The event started in 2010 as part of a centennial celebration for the chain of parks along the waterfront, but it was so popular that St. Petersburg Preservation decided to screen films on a recurring basis, Belmont said.

In its first year, North Straub Park's grass was spotted with blankets of moviegoers, though there was plenty of lawn space to spare. This year, Belmont expects closer to 1,000 attendees each week.

“We're not big like Mainsail Arts Festival or Ribfest or anything like that,” he said. “But we get crowds that are fairly close to capacity.”

Outdoor movie events have become popular events in cities across the country, including Clearwater and St. Pete Beach.

“I think these are the kinds of things that drive people here,” said Ester Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, which promotes independent businesses throughout the Tampa Bay region. “It's very open and very inviting.”

The event costs about $1,500 per film to stage. Sponsors cover event costs, and the City of St. Petersburg donates staff time.

“We don't do it because we get people from it,” said Brett Andress, owner of the nearby Ale and the Witch brew pub, one of the sponsors. “We do it because we like what the city's doing and want to be part of it.”

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