City department representatives Wednesday morning voted unanimously at the February meeting of the Seattle Special Events Committee to move forward with Seattle PrideFest, the 2017 organizer of the annual Pride Saturday street festival on Broadway.
The move denies a permit to Charlette LeFevre, the founder of the event, based on her organization’s long running challenges working with the city and the revocation of her permit last summer after violating “permit conditions” that city officials say resulted in the injury of an elderly pedestrian and wasted city resources.
Both PrideFest, which also organizes the Pride Sunday festival at Seattle Center, and LeFevre’s newly rebranded Capitol Hill Pride effort had applied for permits to organize the annual Broadway street festival. But only PrideFest and its lead organizer Egan Orion had the backing of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Broadway Business Improvement Area.
“Egan did a great job jumping in,” Seattle Department of Transportation representative Kate Leitch said Wednesday during committee testimony over the competing permit applications. “He did a fabulous job of pulling off a miracle very quickly.”
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CHS reported here on the effort to put the nine-year-old’s festival’s grassroots days behind it and move forward with a better organized, better structured, and better attended event.
Wednesday, city officials recounted years of challenges working with LeFevre’s organization and a disastrous turn in 2017 as she and fellow organizers attempted to expand their Pride festivities across multiple days. Leitch described the scene as city officials arrived at LeFevre’s new PrideFest march and rally last June and found the group was also setting up an un-permitted stage and placing vendors and no parking signs along blocks of Broadway north of John. Leitch said city officials began clearing out the vendors and working with producers to have the stage dismantled but LeFevre and her fellow organizers were nowhere to be found. SDOT found the group had even ordered several chemical toilets that needed to be cleared away.
The disorganized march event took a terrible turn when an elderly pedestrian had to be rushed to the hospital after she tripped on an improperly covered cord, Leitch said, falling face first and injuring her face and hand.
LeFevre and her fellow organizers were finally tracked down — their march had left from Seattle Central and was crawling up Broadway. Only LeFevre and three or four organizers were in the procession — along with a large accompaniment of Seattle Police on hand because the organizers had provided the city with an estimate of more than 2,000 marchers, a department representative said Wednesday.
“With Charlette there was never a happy medium, there was never a balance,” the King County Metro representative at Wednesday’s vote said. “It was always her event.”
Formed in 2009 with grassroots but ultimately unstable, Capitol Hill’s pre-Pride festivities on Broadway including a street festival attended by thousands of people were rescued in 2017 by PrideFest after the city revoked the longtime organizers’ permit.
The event’s grassroots were planted in 2009 by LeFevre and Phillip Lipson who previously operated a tourist-oriented “mystery” museum on Broadway before eventually moving the business off Hill. Lipson and LeFevre’s festival ran into issues in their repeated efforts to expand from a one-day block party held Pride weekend on blocks of Broadway north of John and E Olive Way. In 2013 with support of the chamber, Seattle PrideFest expanded its activities back to Capitol Hill in Cal Anderson. In 2017 with PrideFest and the Broadway festival moving forward again with competing events, the city finally stepped in.
Wednesday, the city decided enough was enough. Chris Swenson, manager of citywide events and chair of the Special Events committee, told CHS this was the first time in his memory that two organizations were competing for permits for the same community event.
Neither LeFevre or Orion attended Wednesday’s committee meeting.
The committee’s decision came down to 2017’s problems but also long-running frustrations for departments and services who have worked to accommodate the Broadway Pride event over the years. Wednesday, department representatives unloaded, describing bloated attendance estimates, litter problems, transportation problems, and safety problems at past festivals. Officials also derided the festival’s past emphasis on vendors and booths as an “inefficient use” of public space that caused inconsistent and varied “activation” along Broadway.
Meanwhile, the praise for how the event was run by PrideFest in 2017 was unanimous. Swenson also noted that every comment sent to the committee by local businesses prior to Wednesday’s vote was in support of PrideFest’s application.
Orion tells CHS that planning for PrideFest Capitol Hill’s 2018 celebration in Cal Anderson and on Broadway is already underway. Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 23rd.
LeFevre and Lipson, on the other hand, still have some clean-up from last summer to deal with. According to King County District Court records, north Broadway bar Bait Shop successfully sued the organizers in small claims court for not refunding rental booth space for an “event the organizers never put on.” A judgement of $1,206 was entered in December.
UPDATE: Here is a statement from Orion and PrideFest about the committee’s decision:
PrideFest is proud to be selected as the producer for PrideFest Capitol Hill 2018. Last year, we didn’t seek out the opportunity to produce the event on Broadway, but when the permit was denied to the group who had historically managed the event, we were the only LGBTQ organization with the experience and staff that could pull it off in the eight days that remained before the event. With more time and the experience of having produced it under our collective belts, we’re eager to make PrideFest Capitol Hill even better this year. The event is not only an essential one for Broadway businesses, but for Capitol Hill as a whole, honoring its vibrancy and LGBTQ legacy. We appreciate all the efforts of Charlette LeFevre and her group in building the event over the years and thank them for their service to the community. Under our leadership, we hope to continue to grow the event and earn the right to produce it each and every year. PrideFest Capitol Hill will take place Saturday, June 23, 2018 from Roy to John on Broadway and along Denny Way and into Cal Anderson Park. It is a free event for all.