CHANGES COMING | Spectators line Cedar Springs to watch the 2010 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Traditionally, the crowds have trekked down to Lee Park after the parade each year for the free Festival in Lee Park. This year, though, the park will be fenced in and there will be a $5 admission fee. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)
Michael Doughman

Doughman says increased expenses, dangerous drinking levels in park led to changes

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor

Dallas Tavern Guild Executive Director Michael Doughman confirmed this week that organizers will be charging a $5 admission fee to the annual Festival in Lee Park following the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade in September.

Admission to the parade will still be free. The Tavern Guild, an organization of nightclubs catering to the LGBT community, took over planning, organizing and presenting the parade in the early 1980s.

Doughman said the park will be fenced in for the festival, due to new requirements by the city for outdoor events. Those attending the festival also will no longer be able to bring in coolers and glass containers of all kinds are banned.

The changes were prompted, Doughman said, by changes in requirements imposed by the city and by “polite warnings” from Dallas police and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that drinking during the festival was getting seriously out of hand.

But Doughman also acknowledged that the admission fee is intended to increase revenue, too.

“Being able to donate proceeds back to our beneficiary organizations has always been a major focus of the parade. But ever since the Homeland Security Act passed after 9/11, and the security requirements have gone up, the money we are able to donate back to our beneficiaries has been dwindling,” Doughman said. “We used to be able to donate $20,000 to $25,000, and we had three or four beneficiaries. Now, we’re lucky if we have $7,500 or $8,000 to give back to our one beneficiary [Youth First Texas].”

Doughman said that the cost of meeting city requirements has tripled since 2001. Part of that, he said, is due to increased security requirements in place since the passage of the Homeland Security Act.

“It used to be that we had to have 35 to 45 officers on duty for the parade. Last year, there were 102 officers,” he said. “We have to rent more barricades for blocking of the streets, and those barricades cost more to rent now than before. We have no control over those costs. On top of that, the materials and equipment we need to put on the parade costs more now, too — the port-o-lets, the radios, the golf carts. We’ve done nothing to reflect that cost back to [parade and festival attendees] until now.

“We think $5 is a minimal charge for people to attend, and charging that small admission fee means we may possibly be able to give more back to our beneficiaries, and maybe we can have two or three beneficiaries, like we used to do, instead of just one,” he said.

Doughman said the other main reason for fencing in the park and charging admission is to give parade organizers better control over the crowd.

“The last two or three years, it’s gotten really bad” in terms of celebration attendees drinking to excess and ending up being a danger to themselves and others, Doughman said.
“The Dallas police officers have been very kind about the way they have handled it, but we have been warned by the police and by TABC, and we had to be proactive in doing something to address the issue. It is a huge liability for [the Tavern Guild],” he said.

Doughman said that even though hard liquor has always been prohibited in the park, attendees have become more brazen about ignoring that ban.

“That’s a licensing issue. We only have a license for beer at the celebration, no hard liquor. If TABC were to do a sweep through there and find hard liquor, then we would be liable. They would take away our license and the city would never give us another permit for the parade or the celebration. That would be the end of Dallas Pride,” he said.

Doughman said incidences of excessive intoxication and underage drinking have increased noticeably over the past two or three years, and that police warned organizers the problem had to be addressed.

“There have been people walking around with open bottles of vodka. Last year, there were two young girls with a big jug of whiskey,” he said. “It’s gotten out of hand, and we have to be proactive in addressing the problem. Last year, we had two girls come up who had gotten separated from their friends. They were so intoxicated they couldn’t even speak coherently. We couldn’t even understand them when they told us their names and who they were looking for.

“What if someone comes to the festival, gets that drunk and then leaves the park and walks out into the road in front of a car and is hurt or killed. We are liable for that. Or what if they get drunk at the festival and then get behind the wheel of a car and hurt or kill someone else?” he added.

Doughman noted that organizers “have no issue” with people bringing bottled water into the park, but no outside liquor or beer will be allowed. “TABC will have their eye on us this year, and we have to manage the alcohol better,” he said.

Doughman said the last thing organizers want to do is take all the fun out of the annual Pride celebration, and said that those who pay the $5 fee to attend the celebration in the park will get to see “bigger-name entertainment” than in past years, as well as have access to improved food service.

“We don’t want to take the fun out of things, but we have to do what we have to do to make sure this is a safe event and to make sure that we follow the rules and make enough money to pay our costs and still have money for our beneficiary,” Doughman said. “We want everyone to have a good time, and we want them to do that in a safe environment.”