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February 16, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 07
 
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SGN EXCLUSIVE - Seattle Out And Proud owes Seattle Center $100,026.33 from 2006
SGN EXCLUSIVE - Seattle Out And Proud owes Seattle Center $100,026.33 from 2006
"We have nothing more than - right now - postponed meetings and promises of a plan that isn't coming," said Seattle Center's David Heurtel.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Seattle Gay News has learned that Seattle Out And Proud (SOAP), organizers of Seattle Pride in 2006, owes the Seattle Center $100,026.33 as of February 1st. This overdue bill to Seattle Center is for operational expenses it incurred during last year's festival, June 24 and 25, 2006.

Former SOAP President Dale Kershner signed a three year contract with the Seattle Center last year, which was later approved by the Seattle City Council. According to the contract, the Seattle Center buildings and grounds were provided at "no cost" to SOAP. However, the nonprofit was required to reimburse the Seattle Center for its operational costs for each day of the festivities.

In the latest of three letters dated January 26, 2007, Seattle Center Director of Productions John Merner issued a stern warning to SOAP President Eric Albert-Gauthier. "If we are unable to resolve this before February 15, 2007 I will be forced to release the '07 dates and instruct the City Law Department to pursue collection," he wrote.

THREE LETTERS FROM SEATTLE CENTER
SOAP was issued its first statement of balance owed on August 28, 2006, in the amount of $95,707.91. On October 2, SOAP was notified that the bill had begun to accrue interest and penalties. On October 27, Merner wrote the first of three "demand letters" to SOAP about their unpaid balance.

"We have made repeated efforts to set up discussions regarding your bill since mid-July of 2006. More recently we have had meetings scheduled for October 4 and October 18. Your organization cancelled these meetings," Merner wrote. "In scheduling these meetings Katie Plymale, Seattle Center Event Service Representative, had discussions with Weston Sprigg. Weston indicated to her that Seattle Out and Proud did not have sufficient resources to pay the bill, but was working on a plan to resolve this. I am pleased that you are working to resolve this issue and look forward to meeting with you to discuss your options."

In a meeting with Merner on November 2, 2006, Albert-Gauthier indicated that the organization was having financial difficulties. The details of the meeting are outlined in a letter Merner wrote to Albert-Gauthier on November 16, 2006.

"Thank you for meeting with me on November 2. That meeting confirmed my concerns that Seattle Out And Proud is unable to meet the financial obligations of our contract. In the meeting we agreed that your organization would submit a payment plan to Seattle Center within 10 days," Merner wrote. "I have yet to hear anything from you. Please contact me before November 22, 2006 to let me know when I can expect to receive your plan. If you fail to contact me I will have to instruct the City Law Department to pursue collection."

Merner also spoke of his conversations with Seattle Center's executive level staff about SOAP's past due bill in his November 16 letter. "Following our meeting, I did discuss this issue with the Seattle Center Executive Staff. The decision of the group was that we couldn't begin planning of a 2007 Pride Festival until the 2006 obligations are met. To effectively plan for 2007 we believe we would need to begin discussions by mid February at the latest. As a result I am looking to February 15, 2007 as the deadline to move forward or not," he wrote.

In his latest letter, dated January 26, 2007, Merner repeated the February 15, 2007 deadline and said he may be forced to release the dates of the event and begin collection efforts.

"I am concerned that I have yet to hear from you and your organization regarding a payment plan for the Seattle Out and Proud '06 festival debt. Seattle Center is unable to hold any dates or make any other preparations for the '07 event unless your '06 festival financial obligations are met," wrote Merner. "As my previous e-mails and letters have stated we need to receive not only an agreed upon payment plan but also payment on or before February 15, 2007."

SGN INTERVIEWS SEATTLE CENTER SENIOR STAFFER
During an in-person interview with the SGN on Wednesday, February 14, Seattle Center Director of Marketing and Business Development, David Heurtel, went on the record to describe their "one way correspondence" with SOAP.

"We have been willing and open to discussing a payment plan. We've tried to set up meetings to discuss payment plans. We are open to it. We are not against it," he said. "If they come in here with any type of solution by tomorrow, which is February 15, we'll study it. We will look at it. ... We have nothing more than - right now - postponed meetings and promises of a plan that isn't coming. So, we have nothing to work with.

"They have to demonstrate to us that there is a capability of paying what is owed over time and also demonstrate that there is enough financial sustainability to put on an event in '07 and, subsequently, in '08."

He said the Seattle Center has acted in good faith. "We were trying to be good partners. Seattle Center is not in the business of making life difficult for people or organizations. Our idea is to be a welcoming place and to do great events with great partners. That is what we do," he said.

Heurtel said the group's lack of communication had made it impossible for the Seattle Center to proceed with planning for Seattle Pride 2007. "The problem now is two-fold. Yes, there is the '06 financial situation, which raises concern about the '07 financial situation. But...we are now four months out; we need to start working on the '07 production," he said.

Seattle Center staff told the SGN that no payment or communication from SOAP had been received by the deadline of Thursday, February 15.

SOAP EMAILS RESPONSES TO SGN QUESTIONS
Seattle Out And Proud President Albert-Gauthier would not agree to a sit-down meeting with the SGN this week, however, he did reply on Thursday to a series of email questions from the SGN.

"Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I was out of town all last week and I am now just getting through all of my e-mail," he said. "At this short notice, I am not available for an in-person interview. But in the future, given more notice, I would love to talk more in depth with you."

According to Albert-Gauthier, the SOAP board has "discussed" plans to resolve the issue and that the "organization is moving forward." He also said the event would still be held at the Seattle Center, but failed to elaborate how SOAP could pay off last year's debt while incurring new debts for the 2007 event.

"Seattle Pride 2007 will take place on Saturday, June 23, and Sunday, June 24, 2007 at the Seattle Center. The parade will take place on Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 11:00 on 4th Avenue as it did last year."

When asked, "If Out And Proud can't pay the Center, will you still do an event?" He replied, "Yes."

In emails to the SGN, Albert-Gauthier confirmed that SOAP also owes money to other creditors from last year's event, in addition to the Seattle Center. However, he refused to identify them. "I will not name the creditors at this time. I don't see the relevance," he said.

When asked about SOAP's debt, Heurtel said he heard "rumblings that other providers, service providers, were having some problems" getting paid. However, he said, he could not substantiate details.

According to Albert-Gauthier, donations from the community at the Seattle Center during the event totaled $121.00 and the "funds obtained through sponsorships did not cover expenses." In his reply, he did not mention or account for any money raised from parade, booth, concessions, beer garden and other vending fees the group may have collected.

In an email shortly before press time, Albert-Gauthier said that the deposit for the 2006 event had already been applied to the balance due. The contract states that a deposit in the sum of $3,000 "shall be held by the City as a deposit for Licensee's faithful performance of all its obligations" and that the city may "use, apply or retain all or any part of this deposit for the payment of any amount which City may spend by reason of Licensee's default or use."

COUNCILMEMBERS TOM RASMUSSEN AND SALLY CLARK COMMENT
During interviews with the SGN, Seattle City Councilmember's Tom Rasmussen and Sally Clark, who are both openly Gay, said they support the Seattle Center's position.

"I think that they ought to pay their bill," said Rasmussen. "They ought to live up to their obligations and the City should go about their usual collection procedures. They should be treated like any other organization that owes money to the City.

"I expect the Seattle Center to collect this bill, just like any other bill."

Sally Clark agreed. "The Seattle Center has a very capable staff that obviously has been doing their darndest to reach out to Seattle Out And Proud and get into - at least - a conversation with them," she said. "The Seattle Center is doing their job. It is expensive to use Seattle Center and that is something that promoters and organizations know.

"You always hope that when you sign a contract with somebody that they understand their obligations and that they will make good on it. I hold out hope that is still the case with Seattle Out And Proud."

Clark called on SOAP to be up front with the region's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community about its current financial situation "I think the community deserves an answer about how they are going to cover their costs this year, as well as leftover costs from last year," added Clark. "I think they are going to have a lot of people who will want to see those books before they give them any more money, that's for sure."

Both councilmember's expressed concern about SOAP's ability to plan the event this year due to its current financial constraints. "The Gay Pride Parade is a lot bigger than this organization. So, maybe another group needs to take on the planning for it this year," said Rasmussen.

"This is one organization that is clearly in financial trouble, but that should not cast a shadow on the whole community," concluded Clark.

The SOAP Board will hold its next public meeting on Sunday, February 18, from 6-8 PM at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance's conference room (1002 E. Seneca St., Seattle).

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