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Pride Ball disaster lost big bucks

Lines blurred between ticketed event and not-for-profit

THE BEST LAID PLANS? Pride Ball's April 2004 launch with skating celebrity Brian Orser.

Pride Toronto lost at least $18,000 thanks to its involvement with Pride Ball in 2004. Of course, trying to follow the paper trail that tied Pride Toronto to Pride Ball – there’s the overlap between Pride Toronto executive and Pride Ball executive, there’s the unsigned document setting up the relationship between the two bodies and there’s the late registration of Pride Ball as a corporation – is a challenge in itself.

Pride Ball, held the Saturday of Pride weekend last year, made no profit, admits Fred Pitt, Pride Toronto’s cochair. Pride Ball, billed as Pride Toronto’s largest-ever fundraiser, sold more $65 tickets than the indoor part of the Docks venue could hold, resulting in long lineups and angry patrons chanting, “Refund! Refund!”

All this after Pride Toronto loaned $30,000 to Pride Ball for start-up costs and provided $15,000 in bridge-financing to secure talent for the event. Pride Toronto even procured a $54,000 grant from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund (OCAF) mostly to help promote Pride Ball, even as it claimed that Pride Toronto was not behind Pride Ball. About $16,000 of the grant had to be paid back, says Pitt.

Pride Toronto volunteers and staff had hoped the ball would be the first of many annual fundraisers for Pride Toronto. Instead, there are no plans this year for another Pride Ball. Daniel Bellavance, the private promoter who was the other lead partner in the event, is hosting his six Prism parties this year without cross-promotion. Bellavance did not return calls for this story.

Though planning for Pride Ball, a nonshare corporation consisting of a board of directors, started the fall of 2003, it wasn’t even incorporated in Ontario until Jul 20, 2004, almost a month after the ball itself. Though Pride Ball was treated as a separate legal entity from Pride Toronto, Pitt admits Pride Toronto paid the $2,190 in legal costs to incorporate Pride Ball.

On top of the grant repayments and legal costs, Pride Toronto may be out an additional $10,000 – the amount Pride Ball still owes from the $30,000 startup loan. There is no set date for repayment, but Pitt is optimistic the remaining owed will be paid back.

“We’re hoping to reclaim that money back. I have trust [that] the individuals will own up,” says Pitt.

Pitt blames the disaster on the weather, since the Docks deck had dancing room to spare, with a capacity of 5,000. It was just that people didn’t want to go outside.

“Things went wrong when the temperature on the night of Pride Ball went down to six degrees. That was a freak of nature,” says Pitt.

Weather wouldn’t have been a problem at the original Exhibition Place location, But Pride Ball lost that venue just days before the event. There is some dispute about how firm the Exhibition Place booking was in the first place, and whether the event was properly insured.

Pride Ball organizers promised to provide upset partygoers with refunds provided they applied within seven days of the event. How much money did Pride Ball have to pay out for refunds? Nobody’s talking. Pride Ball reps wouldn’t return Xtra’s phone calls for this story, even though Pride Ball steering committee members Janis Purdy and Frank Chester are staff at Pride Toronto. Chris MacKechnie also represented Pride Toronto on the Pride Ball steering committee; he resigned from Pride Toronto’s board last September. He did not return Xtra’s telephone calls.

Despite the tight intertwining of Pride Toronto and Pride Ball, Pitt says the ball was primarily Bellavance’s brainchild and a news release from Pride Ball last year stated: “Pride Toronto had nothing to do with the production of Pride Ball, and are simply the organization to which we will be donating the net proceeds.”

“We were approached by Daniel Bellavance who was interested in putting on a fundraiser for Pride Toronto. So it’s presented to us as in a possible Fashion Cares kind of level, that this could be a really big thing for Pride and it will really help you guys out, so of course we’re going to say, ‘Yes, we’re keen,'” says Pitt.

Other Pride Ball board members included Mikey Ain, formerly of Open Doors Toronto, event producer Gilles Belanger, Fashion Cares’ David Connolly, Collin Joseph of the Ontario Lottery And Gaming Corporation and Olympic medalist Brian Orser.

Plans were put into a draft letter of agreement between Pride Toronto and Pride Ball: Pride Ball would get promotional advertising funded mostly through government grants, and Pride Toronto would get a “donation in the amount of all net profit made by Pride Ball Toronto.”

“The letter of agreement… was a draft that was never used between the two organizations,” claims Pitt.

Though Pride Ball was supposed to be arms-length, Pride Toronto set out months in advance to obtain government grants for it.

In January 2004, Pride Toronto applied to the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund (OCAF) for $63,000 for what it called, “an exciting new project entitled Tropical Mix.” The grants provide working capital for cultural attractions and, since the events are supposed to make some money, require a partial repayment. Pride Toronto received $54,000 for Tropical Mix.

The proposal was composed of three parts: a new south stage on the Friday night of Pride Weekend, a special, carnival-style entry in the Pride Parade and Pride Ball.

Reading the application, regular Pride attendees might have the feeling that neither the south stage nor a carnival-style parade entry (the Pelau group that was mentioned had been in previous Pride Parades without this kind of funding) were particularly new or even directly related to one another. But OCAF requirements regarding promoting culture and ticketed events seemed to have pushed Pride to toss them into the Tropical Mix name for grant purposes.

The grant was spent on advertising in magazines throughout North America, says Pitt, promoting both Pride and Pride Ball.

On top of the advertising and startup costs, Pride Toronto also approved $15,000 in bridge-financing for Pride Ball.

“The payment was made directly to agencies representing [singer] Chaka Khan and [DJ] Barry Harris as a deposit on their performance fee. This deposit was secured, and Pride Toronto was repaid,” says Pitt.

Pitt defends Pride Toronto’s investments supporting Pride Ball, since it could have been a potential source of sustainable funding.

“[Pride Toronto] puts on a million dollar event every year. Our funding is spread in about three ways: a third from sponsorships, a third from government funding and a third from… beer garden revenue. None of that is sustainable,” says Pitt.