Organizers don’t expect decision to fence in Lee Park, ban outside alcohol at event following parade to have major impact on attendance
JOHN WRIGHT | Online Editor
When the Dallas Tavern Guild announced a $5 admission charge for Sunday’s Festival in Lee Park earlier this year, it led to some major backlash on social media networks and in the comments section of DallasVoice.com.
But Michael Doughman, executive director of the Tavern Guild, said the backlash hasn’t translated into significantly reduced interest in the event from vendors and nonprofit groups.
As of this week, only five fewer organizations had signed up for booths at the festival, which takes place before, during and after the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.
“We don’t consider that a loss in attendance at the park at all,” Doughman said. “We do have some nonprofit organizations that opted not to be in the park this year, and that’s certainly their choice. We don’t think that it’s going to harm anything.
“We have over 70 vendors already paid in the park,” Doughman added. “If that were the general consensus, a whole lot of those people wouldn’t be coming either, but they are.”
The Tavern Guild, which puts on both the parade and festival, chose to fence in the park this year to be proactive since the city plans to require it in the future, Doughman said.
The fencing will also allow the Tavern Guild to prevent people from bringing in their own alcohol, which Doughman says has become a problem.
“We’ve had a really, really rapid rise in the number of people [getting] highly intoxicated,” he said.
Those who want to consume alcohol at the festival this year will have to purchase it from vendors — who’ll be selling plastic bottles of beer at the same prices as before, $3 for domestics and $4 for imports, Doughman said.
Lori Chance, special events manager for the city of Dallas, confirmed that her office likely would have required the Pride festival to be fenced beginning in 2012.
“Typically anytime alcohol is involved, we require fencing, and that’s so they can control the ingress and egress,” Chance said. “We’re headed in that direction because of the alcohol. Their choice is to fence the entire park … or to make a secluded area for alcohol, and the alcohol has to stay in that area only.”
While the decision to fence in the festival was made in anticipation of the city requirement, Doughman said the $5 admission charge is designed to raise money for the event’s beneficiaries.
The Tavern Guild historically has donated a combined $20,000 to $25,000 to three or four beneficiaries. But in recent years, there’s been only $7,500 or $8,000 left over for one beneficiary — Youth First Texas.
This year, the Tavern Guild has added AIDS Arms, AIDS Services of Dallas, AIDS Interfaith Network and Legacy Counseling Center.
“If you begrudge $5 to be divided among four of the AIDS services and YFT, then that’s not the spirit of Pride to begin with,” Doughman said. “It’s always been about raising money for the community.”
The Festival in Lee Park normally attracts about 7,500 people, and organizers are predicting a decline in attendance of up to 1,500 this year due to the admission charge, Doughman said. But even if attendance is as low as 5,000, it will still mean an extra $25,000 for the beneficiaries. In addition, Doughman said 25 percent of net proceeds from alcohol sales will go to the Texas Gay Rodeo Association, while 75 percent will go back to the Tavern Guild and its beneficiaries.
Still, not everyone is willing to pay the price.
Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans Dallas, said his group is among those that won’t have a booth at the festival this year because of the admission charge, which he called “a stupid business decision.”
Schlein said Log Cabin decided it wouldn’t be worth the $150 registration fee because of reduced attendance.
He said Log Cabin, which is also skipping the parade this year, used “free market principles” to make a statement.
“To have to pay for it just doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of gay Pride weekend,” Schlein said. “This is a tax on the gay Pride parade.”
Festival in Lee Park
Sunday, Sept. 18.
Park opens at 11 a.m.
No coolers, glass containers or alcohol can be brought into the park. There will be an exception for vendors who want to bring in coolers for volunteers. Admission is $5. ATM machines will be situated near festival entrances for those who don’t have cash. More info at www.DallasPrideParade.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.