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Stuart preparing for Gary's big party

Monday, December 8
Stuart preparing for Gary's big party

By Libby Wells, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

STUART -- The biggest holiday block party on the Treasure Coast, and maybe in South Florida, swings into action Friday night when lawyer Willie Gary hosts his annual Christmas bash on the street in front of his riverfront office.

The massive event shuts down two roads, fills hotels and employs 70 or more off-duty Stuart and Martin County law officers, firefighters and paramedics. Law enforcement agencies are bracing for as many as 20,000 people, most of whom will be shuttled to the festivities from a parking lot at Witham Field.

"It's difficult to prepare for that many people in a small area," said Sgt. James Egbers, special events coordinator for the Stuart Police Department. "We're asking people to be somewhat tolerant of the inconveniences from this. It's a once-a-year event."

It's also a one-of-a-kind event. For the cost of an unwrapped gift for a child, partygoers eat all the ham, turkey, ribs and side dishes they want, refill their cocktails at an open bar, groove to live music on four stages -- including this year's headliner, the O'Jays -- or shake it up in a disco beneath Gary's law office.

"It's a party with a purpose," said Kori Love, Gary's public relations director. "It's Mr. Gary's way of saying thank you to the people who support him throughout the year, and helping children."

Last year, 10,000 gifts were collected for needy youngsters. Gary distributes them each year at his Kidz Carnival at his office.

One of 11 children in a poor migrant family from Pahokee, Gary, 56, made a name for himself winning big settlements from corporate behemoths. He also has a reputation for his flashy lifestyle and famous friends. Among the "special guests" listed on the elaborate invitation mailed to 300,000 people are Evander Holyfield, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Don King, Isaac Hayes, Chris Tucker, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal.

The party is the highlight of a weekend filled with events presented by Willie Gary's nonprofit Gary Foundation.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Gary and some of his celebrity pals will talk to students from Indiantown Middle School, feed them a pizza lunch and give a tour of Gary's private jet during "Role Model Day."

At 8 a.m. Saturday at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, the Willie Gary Celebrity Golf Classic kicks off, with proceeds from the $600-per-person tourney going toward scholarships.

"I think it has a tremendous impact on the economy in Stuart," Love said of the events. "It has grown tremendously."

Bill Pullen, general manager of Holiday Inn Oceanside on Hutchinson Island, said he has few vacancies in the 179-room hotel for Friday night. Leslie Mandody, sales manager at Ramada Inn Downtown on U.S. 1, said most of her 118 rooms are booked, too.

"We start getting reservations for that weekend in September and October," she said. "Everything fills up."

This is the second year the party will be held in the street. Egbers said his department began meeting with Gary's staff in September to plan it.

The Stuart Police Department will have at least 20 off-duty officers providing security inside the party perimeter and directing traffic. The Martin County Sheriff's Office has about 50 deputies scheduled to work. Gary pays each officer $25 an hour, with a two-hour minimum.

"He usually does not give a dollar amount of what it costs him" to host the party, Love said.

East Osceola Street from Detroit Avenue to Florida Avenue will shut down at 5 p.m. Thursday so that workers can set up the stages and sound equipment. Florida Avenue, the party entrance street, also will be closed.

Despite throngs of people and free liquor, there are usually few, if any, security problems, Egbers said.

"I think our biggest problem is parking," he said.

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