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In shift from tradition, Pride events to be held in Artscape location

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For years, Baltimore Pride tradition has held that the Saturday parade turns into a rowdy block party in the heart of Mount Vernon, while the Sunday festival in Druid Hill Park attracts families and kids.

This year will be different, with the lines between the two events blurring.

The parade and block party on Saturday, June 14 and the festival on Sunday, June 15 will both be centered this year around the intersection of West Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street, near Pearlstone Park in the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood and a location many visitors may associate with the city's Artscape festival.

"Instead of it being party-centric on one day and a family-centric and relaxed hang out on Sunday, we want to make it all-in-one on both days," said Kelly Neel, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, or GLCCB, which organizes the events.

The route of the Pride parade, Maryland's largest, will also shift north, in part to avoid its passing the Washington Monument, which is under construction, Neel said. This year's parade will begin north of the monument at the intersection of East Eager and North Charles Street, which has traditionally been at the end of the parade route and the center of the block party. It will then travel up Charles Street to Mount Royal Avenue, in the shadow of the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Baltimore and The Lyric.

Baltimore's gay nightlife scene centers around the East Eager and North Charles intersection, where popular bars Grand Central and The Hippo are both located. The block party has been located in that location for at least a decade, and Neel said she believes the festival has been held in Druid Hill Park for at least five years.

The city's Pride events, founded in 1977, draw thousands of people to Baltimore each year.

Neel said the location changes make sense as the event grows, but they also come one year after Baltimore Pride events caused tensions between business owners, residents and organizers. Some said the block party had outgrown Mount Vernon, and had devolved into a drunken, uncontrolled mess. Others said the event belonged in the gay-friendly neighborhood, and that critics pushing a move were ignoring more practical and less dramatic solutions to trash and public intoxication.

Don Davis, owner of Grand Central, argued last year for the party to remain in the heart of Mount Vernon, while Gino Cardinale, owner of City Cafe on Cathedral Street, complained that organizers had lost control of the event.

Partly in response to concerns, organizers agreed last year to reduce the physical boundaries of the event, but partygoers went ahead and drank in nearby parking lots throughout the central neighborhood anyway.

Reached Wednesday about this year's changes, Davis declined to comment. Cardinale could not be reached.

Jason Curtis, president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, which represents the area where the block party has traditionally been held and the location it will be held this year, said he thinks the move will be positive.

"I think Pearlstone Park is a great space, a great venue for this kind of event," he said.

He also said it will be "great" to see all of the weekend's events, including the Sunday festival, in the extended Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood. "We are the 'gayborhood,' so to speak," he said.

By having the Sunday festival just north of the city's densest pocket of gay establishments, Curtis said, "You're truly supporting the gay community, the gay businesses in Mount Vernon, without taking it all the way up to Druid Hill."

The move also raises some issues, including ensuring that University of Baltimore students will be able to get to weekend classes amid the events and that festival-goers and other pedestrians are kept safe, possibly by getting permission to close the exit from the Jones Falls Expressway onto Maryland Avenue, Curtis said.

His association is meeting with GLCCB officials soon to discuss those issues, he said.

Neel said she hopes everyone will be able to have a good time at Baltimore Pride this year.

"Our theme is, 'We are family,' and it kind of makes it more of a family event when there is more space, something for everyone," she said.

In past years, "there was definitely more drinking and partying going on Saturday, as opposed to Sunday," Neel said, "and now we just want to make it a little bit more fun for everyone -- families and youth involved in the parade -- and I think the new layout will cater to that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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