Piedmont Park or bust.
That was the message officials with Atlanta Pride took to city officials in their plea to return to the 190-acre park in Midtown, a venue that hosted the festival until last year when park officials booted all large-scale events.
The plea from Pride worked. The Atlanta Pride Committee announced on Monday that the festival will return to Piedmont in October. The festival will run Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, an apparent scaling back from the event’s traditional three-day schedule.
“The number one thing we heard from the community in 2008 was a desire to move back to Piedmont Park,” Deirdre Heffernan, Pride’s board chair, said in a prepared statement announcing the festival’s new date and location.
Pushing the event back to late October and the Halloween weekend means Pride will be held away from its traditional late June schedule for the second consecutive year. Late June is the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that are credited with launching the modern gay rights movement.
After shifting to the July Fourth Weekend and the Atlanta Civic Center last year when Piedmont was made off-limits last year, the festival suffered smaller crowds and lost $160,000. Soon after, the board laid off its full-time staff members.
Heffernan told Southern Voice and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that a return to the civic center would kill the event. Pride officials said last October that the civic center and Central Park would host the event in 2009.
“We know that Atlanta Pride would not have survived if we had to do another year as street festival, we would have filed bankruptcy,” Pride Committee Chair Deirdre Heffernan said in an interview Monday.
But Heffernan says Pride will work to recognize the 40th anniversary of Stonewall this June.
“We will be acknowledging the 40th anniversary of Stonewall in June,” Heffernan said in a prepared statement. “We have several surprises in June that will provide exciting opportunities to come together and celebrate while also including more partners than ever to build up the excitement and momentum to October event.”
Pride officials worked with City Council President Lisa Borders and Diane Harnell-Cohen, the parks commissioner. Harnell-Cohen banned the festivals form Piedmont in January 2008 citing the potential for damage to the turf during the state’s long-running drought.
The ban was tweaked earlier this year, when the city announced it would allow one large-scale festival per park during the festival season, which runs from April to October. The Dogwood Festival, which also suffered financial and attendance hits when it moved from the park last year, secured the spot in Piedmont for 2009.
Waiting until Oct. 31 puts Pride outside the festival season and into Piedmont.
“When I was approached by the Pride committee, it was clear there was more we could do to help,” Borders said in a prepared statement. “It was with great pleasure that we found a creative solution to support this festival for the LGBT members of the Atlanta community.”
With the shift to October, Pride steps into a busy month of gay activities, including National Coming Out Day, the AIDS Walk and Out on Film.
“We value the festivals as a rich part of Atlanta’s culture and are pleased to work with Pride to get them back in a venue that will allow them to produce a sustainable event,” Harnell-Cohen said in the announcement.