YBOR CITY — Floats are returning to the annual Guavaween parade, much to the relief of business owners and krewe leaders who opposed a ban on them two years ago.
For paradegoers, that translates to one thing: more beads to add to their costumes.
Organizers decided to reinstate motorized floats after getting complaints that the change took excitement away from the Halloween tradition, now in its 26th year.
"We listened to the people. We heard what they had to say,'' said Tom Keating, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce. "The krewes really like having their mobile units. They are part of the celebration.''
The chamber pulled the plug on powered vehicles in 2009 in an attempt to get the event back to its pedestrian roots. Attendance had declined from 100,000 in its heyday more than a decade ago to about 20,000, and officials wanted to cut costs associated with security, barricades and cleanup.
While praised by some, the ban ended up hurting the parade more than helping it. Without floats, many of the krewes stopped participating and throwing beads.
"It's just too difficult,'' said Sheila Ryan, founder of Ye Loyal Krewe of Samuel Bellamy. "You can't have beverages. You have nowhere to put your beads. There's no toilet facilities.
Ryan, who also is past chair of the Inter-Krewe Council, lobbied the chamber to bring back the floats and hopes crowds will return on Oct. 29, if only for the lure of more beads.
"The $17 admission fee is pretty hefty. People want to get something for that,'' she said. "One can never have too many beads.''
Beads, a staple of Tampa parades, became a hot commodity the past two Guavaweens because people walking the route could carry only a limited stash. A few pulled wagons loaded with beads, but there weren't enough to appease the crowd.
The Rough Riders pulled out of the parade the past two years but plan to return with a float and an estimated 80 members.
"People are very happy the floats are back,'' said Bill Hogan, past president of the krewe. "We spoke pretty clearly about what our needs were. We travel heavy. It really is a matter of logistics.''
At least 20 krewes are expected to attend, up from less than a dozen last year. Their members play a big factor in Guavaween's success by boosting business at Ybor's bars and restaurants.
Joe Vigliarolo, owner of JJ's Cafe and Bar, Centro Cantina and Fresh Mouth in Ybor City, said business was "down noticeably'' the past two years, disappointing employees accustomed to reaping big tips on Guavaween.
"I don't think the attraction was there,'' he said. "Our customers came down for the beads and the floats.''
Adding floats is one of several changes planned for Guavaween, which began in 1985 as a procession of actors and artists who dressed up in clever, satirical costumes.
After 16 years, the Ybor chamber has taken over its production and promotion from CC Event Productions. It is eliminating the carnival vendors to better highlight local fare and increasing the number of stages from two to three. It canceled the annual Family Fun Fest held earlier in the day with trick-or-treating and games for children.
The changes are designed to re-energize Guavaween and build back the crowds to help Ybor and its merchants.
"A lot of people will tell you it's their best night of the year,'' Keating said. "We're encouraging people to come back and try us again.''