BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Dozens of gay South Florida civic leaders are furious that a Grammy-winning DJ and a major Miami Beach nightclub group have again scheduled a dance party at Mansion that they fear will lure gay tourists -- and their money -- from a Winter Party Festival fundraiser on March 7.
Winter Party is a six-day annual festival that attracts 10,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- many of them from out of town -- to South Beach, said chairman Chad Richter, who accuses New York-based DJ Peter Rauhofer and Miami Beach's Opium Group of piggy-backing on the fundraiser's tourist draw.
Winter Party events usually sell out. This year's host hotel, the Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel Miami-South Beach, already is fully booked for the March 3-8 festival, Richter said.
Rauhofer checks the calendar for major gay events "and just swoops in," Richter said.
In November 2008, Rauhofer produced a South Beach "Main Event'' dance party at Mansion in direct competition with White Party Week's Noche Blanca fundraiser for Care Resource, Florida's largest AIDS service agency. Four months later, he held another dance party at Mansion that competed with the 2009 Winter Party Festival's Sunday night event at Cameo nightclub on Washington Avenue.
Two years ago, 1,910 people attended Winter Party's Cameo party, which grossed $112,000. In 2009, when Rauhofer staged his dance party the same night, only 1,500 people attended the Cameo party. Gross revenue dropped to $76,000, Richter said. That was in contrast to other 2009 Winter Party events, which did not lose attendance.
Winter Party's profits benefit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and local gay charities including Miami Beach Gay Pride Festival, Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Pridelines Youth Services. Rauhofer's for-profit dance parties -- which target the same demographic as Winter Party -- benefit the DJ and Opium Group.
"The Opium Group should care . . . about what's happening here in our community. It's not just about dollars," said Babak Movahedi, owner of MOVA lounge off Lincoln Road. He and Richter are among 25 local gay activists who signed an open letter from the Task Force to Rauhofer and Opium Group, asking them to not counter-schedule another event against Winter Party in 2011.
"When they see that so many people care about this in our community, they should think twice about it," Movahedi said.
Neither Rauhofer nor Opium Group marketing manager Carlos Correal returned phone calls seeking comment. Vanessa Menkes, Opium Group publicist, said by e-mail that she is in Israel for a family funeral and unable to give a telephone interview.
Rauhofer also declined a request via Facebook.
"Sorry, I won't be eligible for this interview as my party @ Mansion has NOTHING to do with Winter Party," Rauhofer responded to Miami.com blogger Juan Lopez.
Richter believes Rauhofer's planned March 7 party has everything to do with Winter Party.
"Sunday night is the biggest, most profitable night of the festival," Richter said.
Winter Party was conceived in 1993 as a volunteer, community-based fundraiser to support gay rights in Miami-Dade County.
The first beach party in 1994 netted $50,000. In March 2003, the festival had grown to several events and generated about $200,000 in profits for its then-owner, the Gay Foundation of South Florida (originally the Dade Human Rights Foundation). That group, in turn, gave grants to the gay film festival, Fort Lauderdale's gay and lesbian community center and Pridelines, a support group for LGBT teens.
The bottom fell out in 2004 when the mismanaged Gay Foundation suddenly closed. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the nation's oldest gay civil-rights group, paid the debts in exchange for the foundation's assets -- its annual recognition dinner and Winter Party.
The Task Force agreed to keep one-third of the profits and give two-thirds to South Florida gay nonprofits. The local money is distributed through the Dade Community Foundation's GLBT Community Projects Fund.
Richter fears this year's Winter Party revenue will be worse than last year because the Sunday night party won't be on South Beach. In 2009, Opium Group bought Cameo and told Winter Party planners it wouldn't be available for this year's festival.
"They said they have a very successful straight night [on Sundays at Mansion] and they're going to move it to Cameo and give Peter Mansion, which means there's no venue for us," Richter said. "They're going to push us off the Beach."
Instead, Winter Party will hold its Sunday dance event, Orbit, featuring DJs Tracy Young and Boris at The Terrace above Club Space in downtown Miami. Shuttle buses will run all night between Space and the Surfcomber.
Richter fears that if revenue from this year's Winter Party substantially drops, the Task Force might reconsider future festivals.
"If the festival doesn't do well this year, we're not going to pull the plug," said Russell Roybal, the Task Force's deputy executive director of external relations. "We may try to do things differently in terms of the revenue we're raising, but we're not going to walk away from South Florida."