TAMPA — No one rides for free in the Children's Gasparilla Parade anymore.
Yet another victim of the recession and rising costs, the 62-year-old family-friendly parade that draws 200,000 people to Bayshore Boulevard is charging businesses and groups to participate in the parade for the first time.
Spectating remains free at the Jan. 23 event, but businesses have to pony up $500 to participate in the parade, while licensed nonprofits and private performing groups are being charged $250.
Fees for school marching bands and performance teams are being waived.
About 115 groups typically take part in the parade, which winds from Bay to Bay Boulevard to Watrous and Orleans avenues on Bayshore.
"Free events aren't free," explained Darrell Stefany, president of parade organizer Event Fest. "We have to find some way to offset some of the expenses."
Those costs include the addition of portable toilets and the labor to clean them during the parade, a combination that will more than double their availability. The federal minimum wage also rose this year to $7.25 an hour, which affects parade workers' pay.
Stefany said the parade either had to create fees or scale back one of the city's showcase events, a route the 24-year-old Guavaween parade took this year when it banned the use of motorized floats.
Some krewes anticipated the change and said they would still be part of the parade.
"Everyone else charges for their parades, so I didn't think anything of it," said Dianne Calderazzo, office manager for the Krewe of Venus. "They have got to run an event and that's it."
Laura Bruce, head of the Krewe of St. Brigit, which has participated in the parade for two years, said her krewe will split the cost among about 100 members and friends who ride on the krewe's float.
"Because of the size of the event, frankly, I'm surprised they haven't started charging fees earlier," she said.
Besides the new fee, the children's parade had required parade participants to buy "throw" beads that comply with a new federal Consumer Product Safety ruling that bans lead and industrial chemicals called phthalates in children's products.
Phthalates, found in many products to make plastics flexible, have raised health concerns, particularly among young children.
Concerned that kids might stick the beads in their mouths, parade organizers wanted all participants to buy Grade "A" plastic beads, which are not made from recycled materials and don't contain phthalates.
In applications to participate in the parade, organizers had required statements from bead companies that their beads didn't contain phthalates. But organizers suspended that requirement last month.
The federal product commission is supposed to issue a ruling soon that could clarify how the safety act views beads. Once the ruling is released, Stefany said, Event Fest will better know how to enforce the federal act.
Regardless, local bead sellers say they are handing out legal statements from beadmakers that say their beads don't contain phthalates.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.