Black Spring Break may be in the works

Man says 40,000 people may come

         

CARA OWSLEY/SUN HERALD Black Spring Breakers walk the boardwalk on U.S. 90 in 2000.

BILOXI

A local man says he’s planning a Black Spring Break that he estimates could draw as many as 40,000 people to Biloxi next month.

Derrick Foster, owner of Pinnacle Promotions, said he is seeking permits for the event, which would be held April 15-18. The gathering is mostly targeted at students of historically black colleges, fraternities and sororities. Facebook pages dedicated to the event have created an Internet buzz over the last few weeks.

Foster’s crowd estimate is based on past attendance at other black spring break events on the Coast, in which Foster wasn’t involved.

“It is going to be massive,” Foster said.

One Facebook group is titled “The Official Black Spring Break 2010 Group: All Others Are Imposters” and it describes the event as “a non stop party from the time of your arrival until the time you leave. Whether walking the strip, clubbing, hanging out on the beach, or trying to get your fifteen minutes of fame on the Internet, you are guaranteed a fun time!”

Foster said the event, which is still in the planning process, will celebrate black culture and may include step shows — a dance performance now popular among traditionally black fraternities — and other forms of entertainment.

The theme is “Party with a Purpose.” Foster said his company would donate about 15 percent of the proceeds, which would come from registration fees for some events, to Haiti relief efforts. He said it is a fitting donation, considering what the Mississippi Gulf Coast went through with Hurricane Katrina.

“We are partying with a purpose,” Foster said. “We are not coming down here to just sit around and drink beer and do God knows what.”

Biloxi Public Affairs Manager Vincent Creel said city officials haven’t been able to “ascertain the credibility” of the reports on the Internet. He said late Thursday none of the organizers had contacted the city about permits, or rental of city facilities. Creel said he would advise anyone planning an event to contact the city to talk about any issues that could arise.

“Indications are that the only thing that has been done on this purported event is Internet chatter,” Creel said. “The city continues to monitor and will take prudent steps in a timely manner. We’ll certainly keep the public posted as necessary.”

If the event does happen, the city has a plan to work with Harrison County and Gulfport to handle the influx of cars and people.

“Everybody is welcome in Biloxi as long as they follow our traffic rules and regulations,” Creel said.

Foster, who has an attorney to advise him on the legal aspects of putting on an event, said he expects to have necessary permits for the event from the Harrison County Sand Beach Department next week. Sand Beach officials are getting many calls from vendors who want a permit to sell items on the beach during the event, but they haven’t received the paperwork from Foster’s group. They did receive paperwork from another group wanting to put on a step show, as well as a swimsuit competition during Black Spring Break.

Many locals remember a black spring break in 2000, which didn’t involve Foster’s company. Then, a 20-year-old man from Columbia died after being shot three times in a confrontation with two Gulfport police officers, and traffic from the large crowds created gridlock on U.S. 90. Law enforcement officials said the man was armed and he was shot after struggling with police during a traffic stop. A Harrison County grand jury later cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

The 2000 event was hyped on the Internet, but loosely organized. Attendees stayed away from planned events and opted to party in the streets. Traffic on U.S. 90 stopped, which officials said created a public safety hazard because fire trucks and ambulances couldn’t use the road. Some businesses closed during the event.

Foster said he hopes problems associated with the 2000 black spring break event will be avoided this time. He advises attendees to park and stay on the beach.

“I am really not trying to push everyone to be just stuck in traffic for four or five hours because I don’t know if law enforcement really is ready for a crowd of this magnitude, because it’s going to be crazy,” Foster said. “But at the same time, I am trying to push everyone to just park your cars and have a good time. Come to the beach. Come to the sand. That’s what it’s there for and it’s going to keep everybody out of trouble. If you want to break the laws, go elsewhere.”

Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara said Thursday his office had heard rumors about the planned event, but was waiting for more information before meeting with local law enforcement agencies. He said organizers haven’t talked to the sheriff’s department about the event yet.

“We haven’t really gotten anything confirmed, but we are going to stay on top of it so that we don’t let it get to what it got to several years ago,” Brisolara said.

City and Beach rules

n Bonfires on the beach require a permit from the Harrison County Sand Beach Department.

n Special events permits from the Harrison County Sand Beach Department are required for birthday parties, family reunions, beach weddings, and other larger events on the beach.

n If there any plans for anyone to sell T-shirts or other items at any gatherings, then a street vendor permit would be needed from the city.

n Any gatherings would either have to be on private property or at public facilities, which would require organizers to rent the facilities and pay any applicable rental fees and deposits.

— Source: City of Biloxi and the Harrison County Sand Beach Department

By MICHAEL NEWSOM – mmnewsom@sunherald.com

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