The Parade Has Passed Her By

What do you have in mind for this New Year's Eve? A trip downtown, perhaps, to take in the King Orange Jamboree Parade, and a stroll through Bayfront Park afterward, to dance the night away? For the better part of the past decade, the post-parade revelry drew crowds primed to merengue to the sounds of live music and feast on arroz con pollo, empanadas, and fried plantains at a spicy Latin event called Fiesta by the Bay.

Not this year. Maybe not ever again.
Celia Touzet, organizer and executive director of the Latin Orange Festival Council, decided to abandon her event after park administrators relocated it to a spot at the south end of the park that she argues is smaller and harder for the public to find than her original, primo location. This year the younger, bigger, Big Orange New Year's Eve Celebration will occupy Fiesta's old digs. "Special interests, egos, personal gains and, of course, politics have their own uses for the park and have made Fiesta by the Bay untenable this year," Touzet wrote in a December 9 letter to Alan Weisberg, chairman of the Bayfront Park Management Trust, a citizens' group appointed by Miami commissioners to run the park.

Park officials contend the site they proposed for Celia Touzet's event, the space south of the fountain, is just as good as the old one. "I'm disappointed she feels the way she feels," says Weisberg. "We met several times and tried to work things out with her. I attempted to personally get involved in the negotiations between the two events, and I found her unyielding despite our best efforts to try and work it out. She was very difficult to deal with. I was very frustrated. I tried to be very fair with her."

Touzet complains that she couldn't possibly compete with the Greater Miami Host Committee, the high-powered, politically connected group that puts on Big Orange. That organization is headed by Monty Trainer, a man so beloved by Dade's movers and shakers that they threw a farewell party for him in September 1989, before he went off to serve a federal prison term for income tax evasion. The committee's executive director is lobbyist Rodney Barreto. Another prominent Dade lobbyist, Christopher Korge, serves as a vice president; Korge is a former assistant city attorney for Miami and has served as campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell (D-Miami).

Barreto is also secretary of the park trust, which in late September agreed to move Big Orange to Fiesta by the Bay's old site, the large expanse of land south of the laser-light tower and north of the Claude Pepper Fountain. He did not participate in that decision, he maintains; other representatives of Big Orange and the trust handled it. "Trust members reviewed both events and divided up the real estate according to what they thought was best for the park," says Barreto.

Since the first Big Orange bash occurred on New Year's Eve 1989-90, both festivals have been held at the park simultaneously, with Big Orange's action split between the amphitheater and an area south of the fountain, and Fiesta occupying the middle ground. This year Big Orange laid claim to the central location and the trust had to choose between the two parties. Fiesta lost.

Special interests, egos, personal gain, and politics aside, Fiesta by the Bay seems to have fallen victim to the immensely popular - if shamelessly usurping - Big Orange. Big Orange's inaugural year prompted an enormous increase in attendance over Fiesta by the Bay's previous solo efforts. Crowds have continued to swell; this past year's combined showing for the two events totaled 100,000. By contrast, at the height of its popularity, Fiesta lured about 35,000 people downtown. The high point of the festival's history came in its second year, 1983-84, when the revelry was televised nationally on PBS.

"It got to the point that one festival engulfed the other," says Miami Commissioner Victor DeYurre. "Maybe Fiesta got in the position that it couldn't survive. That's the feeling I get."

Emilio Lacal, president of the Latin Orange Festival Council, a nonprofit group that presented Fiesta, concedes his party has had trouble landing sponsors to defray expenses. The City of Miami, which used to kick in $10,000 worth of police, fire, and other services, no longer provides any financial support, and Dade County was to have contributed only $2000, compared to as much as $10,000 in Fiesta's heyday. Touzet estimates that Fiesta would have needed more than $95,000 to put on its show. Other sponsors included Coca Cola, Phillip Morris, and Coors.

When the twenty vendors who were to sell food and beverages at Fiesta learned of the impending site switch, Celia Touzet says they backed out of the festival, complaining the crowd at the south end of the park would be too thin for them to make any money. "It's inhuman that the trust took the space I had for years when nobody had the idea to hold the fiesta for a New Year's celebration."

Barreto says he regrets Touzet's cancellation. But he's not at all sorry that Big Orange has devoured the Fiesta. "It boils down to this: you have a tremendous magnet with the Orange Bowl parade," says the lobbyist/park trust secretary/Greater Miami Host Committee executive director. "You have all these people downtown. After the parade, there wasn't much alternative things to do. The host committee picked up the ball and said this would be a great time to do a big concert, laser show, fireworks, and the Big Orange countdown - our version of New York's Times Square at Bayfront Park."

All of which has a familiar Auld Lang Syne to it. From the beginning Celia Touzet and the news media referred to Fiesta by the Bay as a Times Square-style celebration with a tropical flavor. For nine years Fiesta-goers danced to continuous live music. They were even treated to a giant orange, Miami's version of the big apple that drops to usher in the new year at Times Square, which gradually lit up during a fifteen-minute countdown to midnight. A colorful display of fireworks usually followed.

Although she resents having to cancel her pet project this year, the Cuban-born Touzet flatly refuses to accept defeat. Maybe she'll move the party to a different location next year, she muses. "Fiesta by the Bay won't die," Touzet vows. "It will take a little vacation in 1991 and return in 1992.


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