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Lucy Nicandri became the festival director in 2004. She works 14-hour days, seven days a week in the six weeks leading up to the festival.  Photo by Mallory Gnaegy.
Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 3, 2013 4 years ago

Driven to succeed: Lucy Nicandri

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

By most measures, Lucy Nicandri is in for a long day.

Her morning began at an unmentionable hour — she had to arrive at Heritage Oaks Golf and Country Club by 6 a.m. She’s there to help organize a golf event that’s part of the 29th annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix Festival.

As festival director, Nicandri’s job description is necessarily vague to cover her multitude of responsibilities.
In one moment, she’s directing where a display boat should be placed. In another, she’s training the volunteers one last time before people arrive. Next, she’s tinkering with the signs advertising raffle tickets so they’re precisely centered. She’s in a state of constant motion.

Look down for 30 seconds, and you’ll lose her.

As golfers begin to trickle in, she serves as a de facto greeter — not the perfunctory “Thanks for coming,” handshake, move on sort; she’s doling out hugs at an astonishing rate. Even then, she refuses to be tethered to one spot (let alone a chair), darting off every few minutes to ensure every detail is nailed down before tee time. She never shows signs of slowing down.

Occasionally, you get the hint that this isn’t an unusual day for Nicandri. A tossed-off reference to “a couple hundred” phone calls she handled last night here, a mention of how her Tuesday workload is even heftier there. This is the “calm” before the storm: the first of 15 events in nine days over the course of the festival, which runs through Sunday, July 7.

Even that characterization is a discredit to Nicandri, who’s in her 10th year as the director of the Suncoast Grand Prix Festival. It ignores all the work that goes into planning the festival — which culminates in 14-hour days and seven-day workweeks in the six weeks leading up to the festival.

“Event planning, it’s a gift,” she says. “Either you’re good at it or you’re not. I’m high energy and fast-paced. You have to be.”

Nicandri first got involved with the festival in 1986, its second year. She came to Sarasota, alone, the day after she graduated from college and began working at a bank. Eventually, she transferred to a marketing position; her boss suggested she look into volunteering during the Grand Prix. Something clicked.

“I love special events, and I love big special events and seeing everything come together,” she says.

Since she’s taken over as festival director, she’s been responsible for making what was already a big event even bigger.

“Even if you’re not into boat racing, I’m trying to inject different events so we can reach different demographics and different areas of the community — and we can make it a real festival,” she says.

The impact of that work goes beyond attracting more people to more events. The Grand Prix benefits Suncoast Charities for Children, which works to help children with special needs in Sarasota, Venice and North Port. Proceeds support agencies that occupy the buildings the charity has constructed; more than $14 million has been used to build facilities, thanks to the festival.

Suncoast Charities Board President Jack Cox said Nicandri, who serves as vice president of marketing and special events for the charity, has helped transform the scope of the Grand Prix. Turning a long weekend focused almost exclusively around the race itself into a nine-day series of more diverse events has allowed the festival — and the charity — to appeal to people and companies that didn’t necessarily have an interest in boat racing.

“She’s taken this really from a race to a weeklong festival,” Cox says. “It’s really broadened our base.”

That broadening has taken work. Nicandri’s duties include securing sponsors; running marketing and public relations; recruiting event chairs; proofing printed materials; overseeing financial transactions; and managing the more than 300 volunteers who staff the individual events — among other things. During events, she is all things to all people — whatever it takes to guarantee it all goes off without any problems.

“I want to be available for last-minute things that may come up, making sure things remain smooth and calm,” she says.

She calls the work “organized chaos,” with certain elements remaining up in the air until the last minute. This year, for example, the Festival Parade of Boats was modified less than two weeks before the event was set to take place to also serve as a homecoming celebration for Nik Wallenda.

“I live by a saying: It’s not textbook, and you’ve got to be flexible,” she says.

Hearing her describe her busiest day — up at 4 a.m.; attending or remotely managing four overlapping events; handling miscellaneous phone calls and emails; wrapping up around 12:30 a.m. — it’s easy to wonder what keeps her going.

Burnout is a problem in this field, she says, and she’s had to increase her focus on maintaining balance in the last few years. She has outlets to ease her mind; in addition to having a supportive network of friends and a supportive boyfriend, she enjoys riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle and walking along the beach. The main thing that keeps her committed, though, is the charity itself.

“First and foremost, it’s knowing the agencies that are in the buildings we’ve built and seeing special-needs children, teens and adults getting services,” she says.

When the Grand Prix is over, Nicandri’s work will continue. She says it takes about eight weeks to tie up all the loose ends after the festival, at which point preliminary work for next year begins — and she’ll already have a list of what worked this year and what needs to be fixed. It’s a seemingly ceaseless cycle that demands a tireless director.

Luckily for Nicandri, it comes naturally.

To see a behind-the-scenes video of Nicandri at work, scroll below.


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