The Vision 2008 Task Force, appointed by Pride Houston, submitted the following report prior to the January 13 community town-hall meeting. The following is the Executive Summary.
• Task Force Composition and Methodology
• Limitations of the Current Situation – 6 key factors
• Feedback (Interviews with stakeholders, officials, community organizations, community feedback sessions, Pride organizations in other cities, other Houston festivals, City of Houston organizations, online survey)
• Alternative Venues
• Task Force Recommendations
• Risks/Challenges Associated with the Proposed Changes:
• Benefits of the Proposed Changes
• Action Items
• POMPOM Points (People Opposed to Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose)
The Vision 2008 Task Force is pleased to present this report to the Board of Directors of Pride Houston. The findings and recommendations presented herein are the result of a six-month investigative effort, during which the Task Force gathered information and input from over 850 individuals, organizations, businesses, vendors and parade/ festival participants.
Charter and History of the Task Force: The Board of Directors of Pride Houston met for a long-range planning retreat in April of 2006. At that meeting, the Board set the goal for the future of Pride Houston: to become a destination weekend event of Pride-related activities and festivities. The Board chartered an independent Task Force to evaluate change and growth alternatives, to solicit community input and to find ways to make Pride Houston more inclusive.
Timeline associated with the Charter:
June 2006 Construct a detailed plan to seek input from all Stakeholders. Conduct Parade and Festival day interviews with 200+ people
July-Oct 2006 Interviews with organizations, businesses, political officials, other Houston events and city resources
October 2006 Launch on-line survey
November 2006 Community Feedback sessions
January 2007 Additional Community Feedback session
Earliest date for a binding Board vote on the recommended changes
Task Force Composition and Methodology: The Accenture consulting firm donated time from two of their consultants to lead the Task Force efforts. We estimate that this represents almost $50,000 in billable consulting hours, which were provided at no cost to Pride Houston. The Accenture team, working with representatives from the Board, sent out invitations to a broad variety of Stakeholders–inviting them to designate a representative to participate in the Task Force. Twenty-one people gathered for the first meeting, in July to divide up tasks. By the end of the project, approximately 10 members were still active.
The Task Force gathered information in 5 key ways:
• Parade/Festival Day “man on the street” interviews
• One on one in-depth interviews with stakeholders: organizations, political leaders, businesses,
• An on-line survey, which today has received 550+ responses
• Community Feedback sessions, held in November and January
The Task Force met every two weeks over the course of the summer, and once every 3 or 4 weeks throughout the fall.
Limitations of the Current Situation: The Task Force identified 6 key factors, which would severely inhibit the ability to make Pride Houston a destination weekend event at its current location/time of year:
• Heat: The heat in June not only impacts the enjoyment of parade/festival attendees, it also makes it very difficult to recruit and retain volunteers and vendors. In addition, it would be difficult to convince visitors from other parts of the country to visit Houston during the summer.
• Ambiance: Because there is not green space adjacent to the Westheimer parade route, the Festival is held on several side streets. The majority of the booths are on pavement, with minimal shade. And since we are behind most of the businesses in the area, we often share space with a building’s dumpsters – definitely a sub-optimum environment.
• Growth potential: There is only limited room to grow at the current Festival location.
• Parking: Parade viewers park on the side streets in the Montrose area. Parking is difficult to find and Pride Houston has no means to provide security for such a spread-out area.
• Comfort and safety of the parade viewers: The parade route does not lend itself well to large blocks of bleacher seating (which is needed for both Friends of Pride and for general admission seating). Also, parade viewers complain of oppressive and surging crowds in some spots along the route.
• Staging time: Because the streets on which we hold our festival cannot be blocked off before 2 am on Festival Day, it is very difficult for both vendors and the Festival Committee to get everything set up by the official start time for the Festival.
Feedback from Stakeholders: Interviews were conducted in two ways: on Parade/Festival Day by a 5 man team of Accenture volunteers, and in one-on-one interviews throughout the summer by Task Force members. In both instances, feedback was gathered using a standard survey template. Answers were provided in a narrative rather than quantitative format. In addition, two Community Feedback sessions were held in November, and a third session is scheduled for January 13, 2007.
Although some in the GLBT community express an emotional attachment to both the Montrose location and the commemorative date, others are open and desirous of change.
The Parade/Festival Day results contained many positives, but the limitations identified above were a strong theme. The full report contains a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) assessment.
One-on-one Interviews with Stakeholders including bar owners, political officials, and community organizations.
Nine bar owners were interviewed. At the time, 4 were supportive of the proposed moves, 1 was undecided and 3 were opposed. Since the initial interviews, Charles Armstrong has expressed his strong opposition to the move (which will be further discussed in the Risks section).
The city and state officials we interviewed were uniformly supportive of Pride Houston in general and fully in support of the move.
The Task Force made effort to interview major organizations in our community – only 4 organizations responded to our repeated requests for interviews. Their opinions were mixed, but all liked the idea behind trying to improve the Parade and Festival, and all said that they would continue to participate regardless of our decision.
Community Feedback sessions scheduled for November were poorly attended (a total of 6 participants over 2 meeting dates). As a result, the Board made a commitment to schedule a 3 rd date, on January 13 th , and to aggressively promote that meeting. The Board purchased a half-page ad in the December issue of Outsmart Magazine to tout both the January meeting and the on-line survey. In addition, the Board will be placing calls to all community organizations to encourage attendance at the January meeting.
Feedback from Potential Resources: These resources fell into three categories: Pride organizations in other cities, other local festivals and city resources.
In interviews with 11 other Pride organizations, we learned that 5 did not hold their festivities in the historically gay part of town, and several hold their festivities in months other than June. The Task Force gathered many interesting ideas and suggestions, both large and small, which will be passed along to the Pride Houston Parade and Festival Committees.
The Task Force also met with two other Houston Festivals: the International Festival (IFest) and the Bayou City Art Festival. Both were very forthcoming with information and suggestions. IFest in particular has expressed a desire to help Pride Houston on an on-going basis.
There are two City of Houston resources which have expressed strong interest in assisting Pride Houston if a downtown venue is selected. The Mayor’s Office of Special Events provides coordinators to help plan and execute every facet of both the parade and festival. They have no vested interest in our venue, but if we choose to move Downtown, they are poised to help in a significant way. The Greater Houston Convention Center and Visitors Bureau will help Pride Houston prepare and promote packages for out of town visitors.
On-line Survey Results: A 15 question on-line survey was launched in October to provide individuals the opportunity to give their input. The survey provides opportunities for both quantitative and qualitative responses. To date (12/17, which is several days later than the survey analysis contained in the report), over 550 responses have been gathered. The multiple choice questions solicit opinions about the change in date and venue in a variety of ways, but in every instance, either a plurality or a majority of respondents indicate support for the proposed changes. The responses to the questions which most directly address the changes are:
“I would be more likely to attend Pride Houston festivities if they were held during a cooler time of the year.”
59% of the respondents either Agree or Strongly Agree with this statement.
“I would support a Pride Houston Parade and Festival held at a downtown park location.”
61% of the respondents either Agree or Strongly Agree with this statement.
A note about the composition of the survey questions: Several survey respondents expressed concern about the perceived bias of the wording of the questions. The questions were prepared by Pride Houston Board member Erik Olenchak, who is a PhD psychiatrist and professor at the University of Houston, and Carol Wyatt, President of Pride Houston. Erik writes surveys as a part of his professional duties. Erik tells us that successful surveys make strong statements, which are designed to elicit an emotional response. Questions should be written in such a way that respondents are moved to respond on the outer edges of the range (strongly agreeing or strongly disagreeing) rather than congregating in the middle. To that end, Erik and Carol chose to write questions that were positive towards the proposed changes, in an effort to evoke strong emotion from the respondents.
Alternatives: The Task Force evaluated 4 possible alternative venues: Allen Parkway, Hermann Park, Downtown and Memorial Park. Memorial Park was never seriously considered due to lack of parking. Hermann Park was the first preference of many on the Task Force. However, this site was also eliminated due to rules which limit crowd size, vendor participation, and the ability for the parade to cross an active rail line. Allen Parkway was eliminated due to negative feedback from one-on-one interview respondents, rather than any physical limitation.
Regarding dates, the city calendar is very tight and the only Downtown date that would work for Pride Houston is the last full weekend in September. While we had hoped for a later fall or early spring date, the September date still represents an average drop in temperature of 15 degrees from the June date.
Task Force Recommendations: In order to achieve the Board’s goal, which is for Pride Houston to become a destination weekend, the Vision 2008 Task Force recommends that the Pride Houston festivities be moved to the Downtown parks, and be held on the last full weekend in September. The City Hall Reflecting Pool, Tranquility Park and the Library Pavilion would serve as the festival footprint for Year 1, with growth to Sam Houston Park and Eleanor Tinsley Park as demand dictates. The parade route would be rectangular, following the outer perimeter of the City Hall/Tranquility/Library blocks.
The Parade and Festival committees have developed an exciting list of features and activities associated with the recommended location. While the plan is still conceptual at this point, here are some of the ideas under consideration:
• Create a new concept of parade flow, in which we have 4 simultaneous starting points. At the designated start time, all four segments of the parade enter the route simultaneously, and proceed in a clockwise direction around the route. Each segment would make a complete tour of the parade route, and exit via the same corner that it entered. In this manner, the parade could move more efficiently, and no one would wait more than 30 minutes for some segment of the parade to reach them.
• Project enormous images on the face of the Shell building, which faces the festival footprint. Whether these images be pictures of gay marches, images of famous gay people or perhaps photos of the commitment ceremony held on the steps of City Hall, it will be a powerful use of the venue and an absolutely unique feature for Pride Houston.
• Conduct a mass Commitment/Re-Commitment Ceremony on the steps of City Hall.
• Conduct a ceremony to raise the Gay Flag over City Hall
• Designate a Family Zone in Tranquility Park, with interactive games, art, and activities
• Create a beer garden called the Stonewall. Entertainment would be provided by drag queens, and signage would explain the significance of Stonewall.
• Produce a Country Fair area, with interactive games (ring toss, knock the bottles down with a baseball, etc) in which the community’s non-profit organizations can staff the booths and promote their organizations.
• Provide at least 3 stages, which can accommodate a more diverse variety of musical acts, fashion shows, and theatre production excerpts.
• Build a bridge across the reflecting pool which will feature 10 minute performances each hour by a diverse group of performances, both silly and sensational.
• Offer shuttle buses to and from the Montrose area throughout the day and evening.
The Task Force further recommends that Pride Houston significantly enhance its marketing efforts, to educate both Houston and out-of-town attendees about the changes, and the benefits of those changes. In addition, the Task Force recommends that Pride Houston re-evaluate its fund raising efforts, to ensure that the organization is capitalizing on all sponsorship opportunities.
Risks/Challenges Associated With The Proposed Changes:
• For change to be embraced, people must understand how it benefits them personally: Effective communication is harder and harder to achieve, as our community spreads out geographically. If Pride Houston votes to change, then they must find effective means to communicate the benefits of the changes, and to reach out to all elements of our community.
• Some people are very emotionally invested in the Montrose and June concepts, and are not going to support change, regardless of the potential benefits.
• The cost to move this event, and to produce it with all the benefits that might justify the venue change, could well double the budget of Pride Houston.
• Charles Armstrong has expressed his strong displeasure with the change of venue. Representatives from Pride Houston are continuing their efforts to meet with him personally to determine a win/win scenario, but to date have not been able to meet with him. Charles has suggested that he might organize an alternative Parade, in the Montrose area.
• September weather can be precarious. It is still within hurricane season, and more likely to suffer rain than June is.
Benefits of The Proposed Changes:
Holding Pride Houston’s festivities at a cooler time of year would:
• Make it easier to recruit volunteers
• Entice vendors to want to participate in our events, since customers would be more amenable to purchasing their offerings (particularly food) when it is cooler
• Be more likely to draw visitors from other parts of the country, since they all have been conditioned to be fearful of Houston’s heat.
• Remove us as contention with many other Pride events, therefore allowing people to attend their home Pride events in June, and to visit Houston in September.
• Make it more pleasurable for observers.
Holding the Pride Festivities in the Downtown park venues would:
• Provide the space to offer a wider variety of activities -including items of interest to a variety of elements within our community.
• Make a statement that Houston’s GLBT community will not be ghetto-ized.
• Provide better ambiance via the park setting and visual dynamics of the downtown skyline
• Do creative things with the Parade, including the 4 corners start
• Engage the help of the Mayor’s office and the Greater Houston Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau
• Create an environment that would be attractive to out of town visitors.
• Generate “buzz” that will yield better press coverage.
Action Items: There are a few items that should be completed beyond the scope date of the Pride Vision 2008 task force. These include:
• Notify groups interviewed of the decision of the Board of Pride Houston.
• Notify Friends of Pride and all Pride volunteers of the Board decision.
• Plan marketing blitz to publicize the changes
Following its inaugural January 11 meeting at the Houston GLBT Community Center, the organization People Opposed To Moving Our Parade Out of Montrose (POMPOM) sent the following list of points to Pride Houston:
The mission of POMPOM is to show the Houston Pride board that a substantial majority of the Houston area GLBTF community strongly opposes the proposal to move our parade from Montrose or change its date.
Key points for the Pride Houston board to consider:
Our parade belongs in the one place we all can call home, Montrose. Our parade is a creation, reflection, and celebration of the Houston area GLBT community and our history, and though we proudly reside in every part of the greater Houston area, we share one common home. That home is Montrose, not Downtown.
Traditions: Our parade has developed a character that reflects and embodies the spirit of our beloved, quirky, historic Montrose. Downtown cannot recreate the intensely human connections that come from setting up our floats in front of homes that every year welcome us as family; the camaraderie of walking along our beautiful shady streets and seeing our community excitedly preparing for our parade to start; the unforgettable route that passes businesses that have stood by our side for decades and been the sites of our battles and triumphs; the protesters looking so pathetic near Hugo’s, the amazing walls of humanity after “the Curve,” and most importantly, the omnipresent spirit of those who have shed their tears and blood on the very streets and sidewalks where we honor and share our pride with them each year. Moving our parade to Downtown would be like moving the Boston Marathon to a soulless track and field stadium.
Moving our parade would be devastating to the businesses and organizations that have always supported our community. Our parade and the build-up to it create a joyous buzz weeks before and after the actual event. Montrose comes alive, as do our businesses. This is the one time of year that the world comes to our home, puts money in our businesses, and experiences the magic that makes Montrose our home. We’re not Downtown, and our businesses aren’t, either.
Downtown offers virtually no GLBT-focused businesses, and the GLBT community does not feel safe or comfortable there . Montrose is the one area of our city where we feel some semblance of safety and comfort. The streets and businesses are familiar to us, and we know we are among friends who are watching out for those who would do us harm. We cannot imagine comfortably walking hand-in-hand with a partner or setting up floats with GLBT-related themes in Downtown, an area that has rarely given us reason to feel welcome or safe.
Substantial increased costs of holding our parade Downtown will lead to increased entry costs, thus precluding the participation of smaller and fringe organizations. In past parades, Pride Houston has done an amazing job of increasing the participation of large organizations and for-profits without over-commercializing our parade. Smaller organizations, regardless of economic might, have always been able to participate and let attendees know who they are and the valuable work they do. Pride has made clear that a move to Downtown will result in increased costs, and this will inevitably lead to the squeezing out of smaller organizations unable to pay ballooning entry fees.
On a matter of such importance to the community, Pride should allow the community to vote. Moving our parade has the potential to be the most controversial and divisive event in our community’s history. Pride Houston allows the public to vote for Pride Marshalls. Why won’t the Board allow the public to vote on the proposal to move our parade?
Keeping our parade in Montrose, we can achieve the goals that Pride Houston claims are reasons to move our parade. Pride Houston has expressed a goal of creating the best possible parade and festivities. All of the points listed here show that moving our parade would be a disaster. Perhaps the board should consider moving the relatively new festival to Downtown as a way of seeing how Downtown supports a GLBT event. Pride has also suggested that moving our parade to Downtown will allow for more effective outreach to all elements of the community, but Pride Houston has a woeful track record of working with communities of color and making them feel they are an integral part of Pride. Pride should start collaborating with all elements of our community and sponsor events, such as Splash or a Latino Pride event. Pride Houston also suggests that moving our parade to Downtown will help Pride become a destination weekend event, but every year in Montrose, our parade has grown, as have the numbers of attendees from all over the country despite the fact that our city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has all but completely ignored our parade and community. We will feel more comfort with Downtown when Downtown finally shows some pride in Pride.
Strong support exists to continue a parade in Montrose at the traditional time of Pride if the board decides to move our parade. A substantial majority of our community adamantly opposes moving our parade and cannot imagine Pride Saturday in June without a parade in Montrose. Many have stated publicly that if the Pride board votes to move our parade to Downtown, another will take its place in Montrose. No one wants to see competing parades, but some feel that removing our parade from its home will leave no other choice.