ST. PETERSBURG — The long stretch of Central Avenue jam-packed with vendors and spectators in the hot June sun is testament to the success of Florida’s biggest gay pride parade.
In recent years, St. Pete Pride has drawn well over 100,000 people to the city’s Grand Central District, and organizers hope to bring in even more with an extended three days of festivities during the weekend of June 27 to 29.
They also hope to make the main event cooler and a bit flashier by starting the parade at sunset and decking out the floats with lights.
Rather than having spectators squeeze between vendors’ tents for a good view, the street festival this year will be pushed to Sunday.
With a Friday concert kicking off the show, the weekend-long event may become an even bigger draw for tourists who want to spend a few days enjoying the city’s restaurants, arts scene and nearby beaches.
“We have so much to offer outside of just the parade and festival,” St. Pete Pride director Eric Skains said.
Area hotels already have reported big bookings two months ahead of the event, and a study several years ago showed St. Pete Pride draws almost 30 percent of its attendees from outside Pinellas County, he said.
A night parade could be enough of a novelty for some who have only come once or twice in the past to make a repeat visit, Skains said.
Plus, the schedule is easier on those who like to kick off pride weekend with a late night Friday.
“Having a parade that started at 9 a.m. just wasn’t all that fun,” Skains said.
The procession will take off at sunset from Georgie’s Alibi on Third Avenue North before passing by Seminole Park in the Kenwood neighborhood and stretching across the main street of Central Avenue.
This year, the neighborhood park will be set aside as a family zone with activities for children, offering an alcohol-free place to enjoy the parade without entering Central Avenue’s sometimes rowdy atmosphere.
“Especially with the parade being at night, we wanted to ensure that families are still welcome,” Skains said. During Sunday’s street fair, there will be areas set aside exclusively for the 18-and-up crowd.
Separating the fair from the parade should allow more space for vendors, larger art installations on the street and, in future years, the event may include rides and other activities for families.
St. Pete Pride will announce its 2014 talent lineup and three grand marshalls tonight at Bert Smith BMW of St. Petersburg. National Grammy-winning artists have been promised for the Friday night concert.