BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
After 27 years, White Party — the granddaddy of HIV/AIDS fundraisers — is ready to evolve.
The big bash, centerpiece of a weeklong festival that draws thousands worldwide, moves Friday night from its longtime home, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, to Miami Seaquarium. Care Resource, the South Florida HIV/AIDS agency that benefits from White Party has dubbed this year’s event “Evolution.”
“We’re building something for the first time,” Care Resource Executive Director Rick Siclari said. “We have to be honest, we’re not against the backdrop of Vizcaya, which was so beautiful. You could dress the place up and nothing went wrong.”
Siclari said the new waterfront White Party “has amazing potential” and that attendees will be surprised when they see the new location.
“It isn’t anything you think of when you think of Miami Seaquarium,” he said. “We're going to be on the other side where you have a panoramic view of Miami. The production values will be just over the top. Nothing like folks have seen at any other parties.”
Last year, Miami-Dade County-owned Vizcaya told Care Resource that it would cost nearly $60,000 to rent the house and gardens for the 2011 party. The nonprofit balked, saying too much money would go to rent the locale and not enough to Care Resource, which provides medical care to people with HIV and/or AIDS.
Seaquarium, at 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway on Virginia Key, is charging Care Resource about $10,000. “We’re already starting out about 50 grand ahead,” Siclari said.
White Party Week profits provide 5 to 7 percent of Care Resource’s annual operating budget, more than $10 million, according to Siclari.
“This is our biggest chunk of unrestricted agency funds available to us,” Siclari said, adding that nearly all other grant money to Care Resource comes with stipulations on how the dollars can be spent.
White Party was created in 1985, co-founded by gay businessmen Frank Wager, Jorge Suarez, Michael Terenzio and others as a fundraiser and AIDS awareness event for Health Crisis Network, a fledgling Miami-Dade County service agency that eventually evolved into Care Resource, according to event historian Bill Mathisen.
The Thanksgiving weekend event quickly became the place to be for trendy gay men on the then-new international party “circuit.”
White Party’s move from Vizcaya marks the first time the event won’t be there, except for in 1992 when the gardens were wrecked by Hurricane Andrew and the fundraiser moved temporarily to The Biltmore in Coral Gables.
Also, Care Resource is shifting White Party from Saturday to Friday night.
“Yes, it’s risky, but our data tells us that whoever’s attending from out of town is here by Friday, Siclari said.
Half of the attendees are from out of town, the other half are local. Last year, about 8,000 men and women participated in White Party Week events.
“Everybody is still in search of the next different thing,” Siclari said. “It’s clear we have to keep this thing fresh and changing.”
Gay travel editor Ed Salvato says the change will be a good thing, but perhaps painful for the surviving founders of the Vizcaya event.
“There’s such an emotional element to it,” Salvato said. “Those guys lost friends. They partied their brains out to save brothers.”
But, he added, “after two iterations of this, people won’t even remember Vizcaya.”
South Beach promoter Chris Aguilar — born the year of the first White Party — looks forward to the move.
“A lot of people are not aware that the Seaquarium hosts a lot of really good events. It’s a good environment. It’s not the Beach. It’s not Brickell. It’s a completely different environment,” Aguilar said. “I attended a Kiwanis party there. It was beautiful. Amazing.”
Several animal-rights protesters have complained that the all-night party might keep Lolita the Killer Whale from getting a good night’s sleep.
Siclari assures that White Party will be acres away from where Lolita and other animals are kept.
“We are animal-rights activists in our own right,” he said. “We take care of people.”
The 27th annual White Party Week benefiting Care Resource, South Florida’s largest HIV/AIDS service agency, runs Nov. 23-28.
For information about events and tickets, visit www.whiteparty.org.
Details about Women’s White Party events are at www.womenswhiteparty.com.