An Open Letter From 2013 Pride St. Louis Treasurer Darrell Grant
Dear St. Louis,
As I sit here the first week of 2013 writing this open letter from the Pride Treasurer I have to say I am absolutely amazed at how far Pride St. Louis, Inc. has come in the two and a half years I have been involved. The biggest change is that we start 2013 with a renewed sense of mission and a transparency unseen from the organization in a very long time.
Let’s start with a bit of history. In the not-to-distant past Pride actually went in the red financially three years running (2006-2008). With no place to firmly call home, Pride’s possessions were stored in the homes of board members. This resulted in things being lost, misplaced and purchased over-and-over again.
In 2009 the board took a good hard look at where Pride was and where Pride wanted to be. They set about getting a handle on what Pride owned. They bought things they were renting every year to reduce long term expenses. They started looking at the Festival and Parade in new ways, chatting with other Pride Organizations via InterPride to discover best practices.
Pride had a great year in 2009 and closed the year with almost $10k in the bank. Not a lot of money, but a solid start for the new year. With some best practices in place, Pride was growing again. PrideFest 2010 saw an increase in attendance and an amazing entertainment lineup.
Attendance at PrideFest 2011 soared above prior records and the Board thought we had produced an outstanding festival. But we were receiving three primary complaints from the community: 1. Festival is same-old-same-old and has had the same layout for too long, 2. We want better entertainment!!, 3. We want more vendors.
So, this time last year we set about looking at how to fix those issues. We started with our longtime partner and host Tower Grove Park. We asked a lot of questions and got a lot of education. One thing we wanted to understand was why our rent of the Park almost doubled from 2006 ($7684) to 2007 ($13,000).
We were told this was when the new conservation measures in the Park went into place and that the rental rates for large groups went up across the board. This hurt. This was an expense that was not planned or budgeted. Note this was the time period when Pride went in the red.
Now, I know some are saying, “it’s a public park, how can they charge so much?!?!” Well, Tower Grove is not a public park in the same way Forest Park or Carondelet Park are public parks. Those parks are owned by the City of St Louis and run by the Parks Department. Tower Grove was a gift and the City owns the land, but the State Supreme Court appoints a private board to oversee Henry Shaw’s gift to the City. That private board sets the rates for Tower Grove.
We also asked the Park why we weren’t allowed to use more of the grassy area. We were renting over a third of the Park space but using only a very small percentage of what we were renting. We learned a lot about our City’s Victorian Park. For one, it has never seen infill. This means the soil is the same as it was when it was turned into a park. This soil is very soft and gets very muddy and boggy when wet. Thus the reason Pride doesn’t set up on the grass. The care of the soil and grass is very expensive and any damage to the grass could result in a hefty, unforeseen repair fees on Pride.
So, with PrideFest 2012 only a few months away the question came of what to do to get a new layout and get more vendors. We looked at moving the stage but sightlines didn’t make that possible. Thus, the long standing location of the main stage. So, the stage stayed in the same place and we spread out the vendors to give more room between them, while encouraging people to walk this beautiful park and keep vendors on hard surfaces to make sure we didn’t incur any unnecessary grass repair bills.
PrideFest 2012 cost almost $200k to produce, saw us cross the 100k attendance mark, and double our vendors. We had the best entertainment lineup PrideFest has ever seen. And we stayed in the black!!! We opened 2012 with just over $48k in the bank and we closed it with almost $60k.
The Pride Board saw a need for some major changes in the organization in 2012. We had people questioning how we spent our money. There were rumors that Pride was making massive profits off Festival and doing nothing with them. There were rumors of misuse of funds. The rumors were rampant.
We also saw that our by-laws were in a horrible state and not worth much more than the paper they were written on, as they had been made very weak over the past decade. We still didn’t have a good handle on all of our possessions and after 33 years in existence we had no home. The Board of Directors was operating out of our homes. We were handling over $300k of income, producing a $200k festival as a band of nomads.
So, the 2013 Board of Directors of Pride St. Louis, Inc. decided to take some bold steps.
- We hired a CPA firm to handle our books. They started in October 2012. Pride will begin posting its monthly financials on www.pridestl.org at the end of January 2013. This will provide an unprecedented level of transparency as to how Pride works.
- We engaged an Auditor to review our 2012 books and provide us with new rules and policies for handling our assets, both financial and tangible. Having an audit will also open up new sources of funding for the organization as it endeavors to provide activities that promote the LGBT community to the larger community.
- We have found a home at 3738 Chouteau. It is a place for us to meet, hold functions and have all of our possessions in one place. No more storing stuff in people’s garages. No more having stuff strewn to the winds. Us and our stuff in one place. A home after 34 years!
- The Board has reviewed by-laws of several local and national organizations and by the end of January 2013 will have a new set of by-laws on file with the Missouri Secretary of State. This will be a comprehensive set of by-laws that will put the organization on par with its peers.
- We agreed to move Festival. With the 2013 rent on Tower Grove crossing the $15k mark, the unusable grassy spaces, the absolute lack of water (3 sources) and the spread of vendors being too great, the Board felt it had no choice. We will be paying less than half to rent the downtown space, we will have more access to water (18 sources) and be able to have more vendors not so spread out. This will be a major change in PrideFest but one we knew we had to take. Things are changing in our world. Things are changing in our community. Moving downtown shows that our LGBT community is no longer in the shadows. We can celebrate openly on the very steps of City Hall – and we plan to!!
I know it’s a lot to digest but I wanted to make sure you had the facts to understand why and how Pride is changing. We have to keep the organization and Festival viable or we can’t keep the Festival as a community. It’s as simple as that.
Pride St. Louis, Inc. will be hosting a Town Hall at our offices on January 21 at 7pm. Come out and join us. Meet the Pride Board of Directors. Get a copy of our 2012 Annual Report. See the official map of our new Downtown Festival Location. If you have questions about Pride, PrideFest and how we operate, this will be a great opportunity to ask.
Yours in Pride,
Pride St. Louis, Inc.