A year after its debt-saddled organizers almost pulled the plug, the 34th Seattle Pride Parade returned to the heart of downtown Sunday...

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A year after its debt-saddled organizers almost pulled the plug, the 34th Seattle Pride Parade returned to the heart of downtown Sunday, with new corporate sponsors and its hallmark mix of the outré and the ordinary.

Spectators lined up five deep along Fourth Avenue’s retail core to lustily cheer on gays and lesbians, buff or otherwise naked; politicians trolling for votes; and marchers touting causes including gay adoptions and recycling.

The three-hour parade featured several new corporate sponsors, including Alaska Airlines, Verizon Wireless and Safeco Insurance Foundation. Occasional showers of Frango mints, Tazo tea bags and other brand-name freebies delighted the crowd.

Seattle Out and Proud, the nonprofit group that produces the parade, estimated that 400,000 people lined the one-mile route from Union Street to Denny Way and attended the related celebrations. The parade is Seattle’s second-largest behind the Seafair Torchlight Parade.

In 2006, Seattle Out and Proud racked up more than $100,000 in debt after relocating the parade and an accompanying festival from Capitol Hill, the epicenter of Seattle’s gay community. The group owed the money for renting the city-owned Seattle Center to hold the PrideFest festival.

Last year, PrideFest was spun off to an independent company, One Degree Events, and is now run separately from the parade, said Troy Campbell, marketing and promotions director for Seattle Out and Proud.

The group is paying off the debt in installments. Meanwhile, this year’s parade, which cost $40,000, should turn a profit, Campbell said.

Sunday’s hot weather helped to boost attendance. Organizers sold out of gay-pride flags before the parade began at 11 a.m.

Relocating the parade and the festival drew criticism from some in the gay community who wanted to keep both events in their longtime Capitol Hill backyard. But Campbell said the move ultimately will better benefit gay and lesbian causes through greater exposure.

“Our mission is to further equal rights, and the best way to do that is through visibility,” he said. “Marching in the heart of downtown is much different than marching down Broadway.”

Among the spectators were a retired couple from Bellevue who had come to catch their first Pride Parade at the urging of a firefighter buddy. Jerry (his wife would not permit him to give his last name), a former bus driver, stood out in his crisp white T-shirt emblazoned “USA.”

He said he was unperturbed by the spectacle around him. It included men wearing fishnets, women with taped-over nipples and — in one of the oddest sights — members of the Seattle City Council, including 76-year-old Jean Godden — gliding past on Segways.

“We’re not in the majority here,” Jerry said. “But I don’t feel out of place.”

Kyung Song: 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com