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Krewes get creative to keep Gasparilla's good times rolling

TAMPA

There may be more staycations being taken and bologna sandwiches being consumed, but there's one thing people refuse to cut out of their budgets: Gasparilla.

"If this is something that's important to you, you cut back on going out to eat and spend money on the parade, said Dianne Calderazzo, office manager for the Krewe of Venus.

The recession hasn't reduced the Krewe of Venus' participation in the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. But have any other of the party pirates pledged to stay home this year?

"Not really," said Jim Tarbet, executive officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which organizes Saturday's parade. "I guess they have prioritized what they want to do with their money."

Perhaps people are spending less on beads, which can cost more than $25 for a giant, opulent strand or $10 to $15 for 12 dozen "throw" beads?

"I'll be honest," said Betsy Lee, custom product manager at Bead Barn in South Tampa, which does nearly all its business in a six-week period around Gasparilla. "Things have been looking like normal, honestly. People want to buy beads, and their opinion is life has to go on and they want to have a good time."

Not everyone agrees. Jerry Green, the past president of the Grande Krewe de Libertalia, said his krewe has 35 dues-paying members, down from 95 a year ago. The multicultural club formed in 1992 to integrate the Gasparilla parade.

"It's interesting to me how we will present this parade this year considering the pain people are suffering now," Green said. "The parade is all grandiose — the beads, the parade, the party, the extravaganza. I'm just curious at how people who are at the lower end of the economy, how they will view this parade this year.

"I mean, they might be looking at this parade as, 'These are the folks who still have.' "

But John Fontana, president of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, which is the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates' title sponsor, said Gasparilla is the one event that cuts across all segments of Tampa Bay, rich and poor. It's an event that boasts one major difference from big-ticket spectacles such as last year's Super Bowl or the U2 concert.

It's free.

It's also free for nonprofit groups, including many krewes, to enter floats in the parade. Parade organizers charge businesses $1,000 and other entities $500 to participate.

Even with these charges, there's a waiting list, Tarbet said.

Organizers did not raise parade fees this year thanks to strong sponsorship, which hasn't shied away from the event despite the economic conditions. "Sponsors recognize it's the signature event of Tampa," Tarbet said.

Some krewes have kept members' costs down so they can participate in Gasparilla. Booze, beads, costumes and fees for float rides are some of the costs individual krewe members have to pony up.

This year, the Krewe of Pair O' Dice gave its 80 members discounts on its $400 annual dues if they brought in new members. The krewe also let members pay in installments.

"Since we call ourselves a krewe being founded by a family, we put our people on a family plan," founder and president Yvonne Painton said. "Everywhere you turn, things are tough."

Pair O' Dice leaders also knew they couldn't ding their members for more money for nonprofit causes as they do annually. So the krewe worked a concession stand at Raymond James Stadium this football season, raising money for its charities and local schools.

"There's a way to do it," Painton said. "There's a way to still give."

The concession stand allowed the krewe to keep more money in its members' wallets, which allowed them to spend when it was time for Gasparilla — an event they love as much as they do fundraising for good causes.

"We do it because of the joy we get out of having people have a great time," Painton said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Krewes get creative to keep Gasparilla's good times rolling 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 10:57pm]
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