(left to right) Laura Lyles, Olivia Kern, and Alea Pleasant were happy to be zombies during the 2012 Zombicon event in downtown Fort Myers. / News-press.com file photo
(News-Press.com) - Zombicon is back.
The annual zombie-themed street party, which brought an estimated 30,000 to downtown Fort Myers bars and restaurants last October, owed the city thousands for expenses including cleanup, police and renting a stage. City officials said they would not give the event a permit this year if organizers did not pay.
This month Zombicon paid the city about $8,400, using a grant from the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and donations collected at fundraisers throughout the year. The city has approved Zombicon's 2013 permit application, said Saeed Kazemi, Fort Myers public works director.
"We are really feeling the love from the community, and support, and that means a lot," Zombicon organizer Janet DeMarco said. "This year's going to be awesome."
The event still owes Harborside Event Center about $12,000, according to Cassie Doyle of the city's Finance Department.
ZombiFest - the event that was going to replace Zombicon - has been canceled because of delays in securing a permit from the fire marshal.
Kazemi said it doesn't matter that Zombicon's debt was paid almost a year late. But if the event struggles to pay this year, there might be a problem.
"We like it," Kazemi said. "To bring the people in - there's nothing wrong with it. It's just they need to organize it and make money and pay the city's costs."
Kerry Blanton, manager of the Morgan House restaurant in downtown Fort Myers, was worried Zombicon wouldn't return. It's one of the busiest nights of the year - comparable only with New Year's Eve, she said.
"We look forward to it every year," Blanton said.
Zombicon 2013 will look a little different, as part of an effort to make sure it's solvent. Organizers will fence off the downtown streets involved, forcing participants to enter through fixed points at money collection stations. Zombicon organizers are asking $5 from each participant.
"This year we really need the support," DeMarco said, "because this event is just too big to sustain itself for free."
The fixed entry points will improve security and allow a more accurate zombie count. Zombicon is hiring an outside security company in addition to the Police Department.
Organizers estimate Zombicon will cost $60,000, but they are trying to cut costs by using donated equipment and free entertainment, DeMarco said. The city has asked about $19,000 for expenses including police, cleanup, Lee County EMS presence, road closures and barricades. Organizers also have to pay for insurance, extra security and entertainment.
"If 20,000 (people) pay $5," she said, "then we will have $100,000 to pay our expenses, pay some more of our debts from last year that still exist, and be able to launch the programs that Pushing Daizies really wants to push."
Organizers want to use their charity, Pushing Daizies, to fund art programs for Southwest Florida children.
The zombie convention at Harborside, an experiment tried for the first time last year, will not be repeated. Not enough people attended to offset its cost, DeMarco said.
When it looked like Zombicon wouldn't happen, ZombiFest stepped in to fill the hole. Unlike Zombicon, which boasts a street party as its most popular attraction, ZombiFest planned to charge admission to a zombie-themed haunted house, side show and concert at Harborside.
Ragen St. Peter, event organizer and owner of Ink Life Tour, was planning to use haunted house ticket sales to fund the concert and sideshows. But he ran into delays securing a permit for the haunted house.
"We're still moving forward," he said, "and we're still planning it - just for 2014."