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Volume 35
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Seattle Out And Proud, Seattle Center reaches tentative agreement $50,000 debt payment, budget oversight among terms
Seattle Out And Proud, Seattle Center reaches tentative agreement $50,000 debt payment, budget oversight among terms
by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Independent Event Solutions (IES), organizers of the Capitol Hill Block Party, offered to pay off $50,000 in debt owed to the Seattle Center for Seattle Pride 2006, opening the door for a tentative agreement between Seattle Center officials and Seattle Out and Proud (SOAP), organizers of Seattle Pride in 2006. The parties have agreed to a scaled down, one-day event on Sunday, June 24, to coincide with the annual Pride Parade, which moved from Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle last year.

The terms of the agreement include a payment plan for the $100,026.33 debt, which includes an immediate payment of $50,000 and a payment of $25,000 over the next two years. SOAP was required to hire a professional event planner and sponsorship development firm. The Seattle Center will also have oversight of the 2007 festival budget.

The negotiations between the two parties began Thursday, March 1, during a closed door meeting between Seattle Center Director of Productions John Merner, SOAP President Eric Albert-Gauthier and SOAP Vice President Weston Sprigg. SOAP had called the meeting after receiving a letter from Merner, dated February 16, that stated the Seattle Center had declared the group to be in "Default and Breach" for failing to pay expenses Seattle Center incurred during the three-day Seattle Pride Festival in 2006.

IES stepped in only days before SOAP's meeting with the Seattle Center to produce and help to plan Seattle Pride 2007.

SGN SPEAKS WITH INDEPENDENT EVENT SERVICES OWNER
The Seattle Gay News spoke with Dave Meinert, co-owner of Independent Event Solutions, on Thursday. He and Marcus Charles, have had an event production company together since 2000. They have produced the Capitol Hill Block Party for the last seven years. Each is also known for owning or investing in several local bars and restaurants in recent years.

Meinert believes the collaboration between his company and SOAP will benefit the region's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. "I think it is exciting. I think that what this really allows to happen is for SOAP, as a board, to be a non-profit board of directors and not an event production company. As a non-profit board of directors, they need to do things such as community outreach and community building and that sort of thing," he said. "I think that overall, what the community will see is SOAP being more responsive to the community and doing a better job of building with the community. At the same time, the event will be a better produced event. So, I think everybody really wins."

According to Meinert, IES entered into discussions with SOAP on Tuesday, February 27. "Basically, they were looking for an event producer and were making some inquiries and someone had referred them to us," he said. "They called us and said, 'Hey, would you be interested in this?' We were; for sure. I think it is a real important event for the city and we are always looking for new challenges too."

IES put up the $50,000 to help pay off the 2006 debt, said Meinert. "It is a risk on our part. Everybody else would get paid back first. Then, hopefully, we will get paid back," he said.

He said IES agreed to step in financially after the Seattle Center refused to move forward without a debt service payment. "That was just part of the negotiations that came up with the Seattle Center," he explained. "In the negotiation, the Seattle Center needed some assurance that [SOAP] would not go further in debt.

"I think last year, it became obvious that having professional event producers would have been a smart decision. Not only event producers, but also a paid sponsorship coordinator, etc."

Meinert said his first task will be to help get the event back on its feet. "There are a lot of things I think need to be done this year. The biggest thing, I think, is just making it stable," he said. "Obviously, we have made it a smaller event, so, it is just a Sunday. We have the goal of blowing out that day; making it a really great one day event that can eventually grow.

"I know that it can be a financially successful event. There is a lot of things the need to go into that process and a lot of organizing."

Planning for the Capitol Hill Block Party in July began last November, according to Meinert. He said IES will have a difficult task pulling all the elements together in time for Seattle Pride in June. "We are going into this thing kind of at the last minute," he said. "It has been a real whirlwind for us getting involved."

However, Meinert said his company is already making plans, which will affect the level of entertainment, the locations of the beer gardens and the sale of merchandise. "We are looking at upping the level of entertainment a little bit, but we are just getting into that obviously," he said. "It is not necessarily more beer gardens, but it is the positioning of the beer gardens that will be a little different.

"I think there will definitely be more merchandise and it will be run a little more efficiently."

Although IES will mainly be responsible for the festival, they will also provide logistical support for the parade as well. "We are helping a little bit with, again, the logistics of it. The content and the vision is definitely from SOAP," said Meinert.

Meinert dismissed concerns raised in media reports this week about his and Charles's sexual orientation. Both are heterosexual. "We are just the people they are partnering with to do the actual event production," he said. "I think it is important for people to know that we are just really the producers. The vision and the content and all that is coming from the community; not from us. ... The vision is the same vision that it has been in the past."

SOAP PLEDGES BIGGER AND BETTER PRIDE
SOAP President Eric Albert-Gauthier said his organization was "committed to an even bigger and better PRIDE" in 2007 and in the years to come. He said his group is better positioned than in 2006 to "move forward."

Before settling on IES, he said SOAP had in-depth conversations with One-Reel/Bumbershoot and third party conversations with Festivals Inc. and numerous other food and beverage catering companies. However, Albert-Gauthier said IES brought something new to the table. "IES brought an edgy grass roots feel," he said. "They really care about this event being the crown jewel of Pride events and doing something new and fresh."

He also said IES will help SOAP to put on a more professional production. "They want to bring everyone to the table to help produce a quality and meaningful event for everyone," said Albert-Gauthier. "It was obvious from the first meeting that we wanted to team up with them. Their track record is well known and they have a connection to Capitol Hill with the Block Party.

"They are committing to making this event a 'destination Pride.' We want people from other cities and countries coming to Seattle for our Pride."

Without going into details, Albert-Gauthier said sponsorship solicitation was going "good, but it can always be better..." He said SOAP has enjoyed working with the sponsorship development firm it had hired.

"It's been such a different experience since we hired Cindy Baccetti. She does sponsorship sales and consulting professionally -- full time. She has worked with some large organizations and adds so much value," he said. "I'm sure she'd tell you that it's a struggle at times; there's only so much sponsorship money to go around and lots of people vying for the same dollars."

However, Albert-Gauthier remained optimistic. "The advantage we have is that this festival has been 'under the radar' for many years and has not lived up to its fullest potential attracting those large sponsors. We're in a good place to get sponsors we've never had before," he said.

SEATTLE CENTER CALLS AGREEMENT A WIN-WIN
Seattle Center spokesperson Kari Shaw cautioned that a final agreement had yet to be signed, but was optimistic.

"Details are being worked out. It looks very positive. We just don't have the contract signed yet," she said. "I expected it to be signed this week, but I think it is just a matter of scheduling. It might happen this week yet, but last I heard it could be this week or next week."

"From the Seattle Center's perspective it is certainly a win-win. Our goal was to work on the debt payment with Seattle Out And Proud and our goal has always been to support the event. This gets us both of those."

According to Shaw, it was important to Seattle Center officials to have greater oversight over the 2007 event and its production. "Those three elements: the hiring of the event planner, the hiring of the sponsorship development firm, and allowing Seattle Center to have oversight of the 2007 budget; those were important elements to regaining some faith [in SOAP] after defaulting on payment for 2006," she said.

Part of that oversight, she said, will include a cap on Seattle Center expenses, which are not to exceed $50,000 in 2007. "We are not expecting spending for the 2007 festival to go more than $50,000," said Shaw. "So, at the point of signing, we will have a check for $50,000 and then we have oversight for the event. ... So, that puts us in a better position for 2007 than we were in just three weeks ago."

The Seattle Center is familiar with Meinert added Shaw. He had worked with organizers of Bumpershoot; helped with the opening of the Experience Music Project and sits on the board of the Vera Project, which is located at the Seattle Center.

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