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Gasparilla changes: more security, more toilets, altered parade route

Fishnets and beads were popular accessories at the Gasparilla 2005 celebration.

LARA CERRI | Times

Fishnets and beads were popular accessories at the Gasparilla 2005 celebration.

TAMPA — It looks like all those YouTube videos and digital photos of people behaving badly at this year's Gasparilla Parade are making a difference.

Organizers of Tampa's annual celebration told the St. Petersburg Times Wednesday that they have come up with new ways to keep people from congregating in residential areas. They plan to beef up security, double the number of portable toilets, adjust the downtown portion of the parade route and open a once-private area to the public.

Jim Robbins, president of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, said he has attended at least a half-dozen meetings since a heated public forum two months ago in which Hyde Park neighbors told horror stories of public urination, fighting and underage intoxication.

They asked that the parade be moved from its signature Bayshore Boulevard route.

Moving the parade off Bayshore is not an option, Robbins said. He cited tradition. "It's a significant part of who we are."

But the downtown portion of the route, which ran across the Platt Street bridge, will be moved. The new route will run into downtown via the Brorein Street bridge and will continue along Ashley Drive until Cass Street.

Robbins said he hopes a more attractive portion of downtown with its new Curtis Hixon Park will provide an alternative to the Bayshore area.

Planners also will open up a half-mile of the Bayshore waterside viewing area to the public. The area was once reserved for private bleacher seating. The stretch from Howard to Rome avenues will now offer a free place to view the parade. Ticketed seating will be pushed south, from Howard Avenue to Bay to Bay Boulevard.

In addition to the route and viewing changes, planners will double the number of portable toilets in an effort to curb public urination. Instead of 800 next year, they will bring in 1,600.

"I'm excited about the idea of more Port-A-Potties," said South Tampa resident Leland Baldwin. "I think that's probably one of the biggest issues."

Baldwin, a former prosecutor and mother of three, spends her Gasparillas volunteering at a safe house for intoxicated teenagers at St. John's Episcopal Church. She recalls having to call ambulances to treat passed-out kids.

She thinks extending the parade route along Ashley Drive will create a more picnic-like atmosphere where families can view the parade together. And she hopes that next year, she sees more grownups amid the throngs of teenagers that congregate in the neighborhood.

"There just needs to be more parental involvement and more opportunities for families to be together as opposed to unsupervised youths everywhere," Baldwin said.

Signs everywhere will warn of "zero tolerance" for underage drinking and disorderly conduct, and the Tampa Police Department will shift more officers off the parade route and into neighborhoods. They will wear orange traffic vests and stand at observation posts to become more visible.

Also being discussed are security cameras and mobile booking units to streamline arrests.

Organizers have met with Hillsborough County school officials and private schools to coordinate alcohol education before the event.

Planners will meet with neighbors at 6 p.m. today to discuss these changes.

In the past, neighbors had complained to city officials about Gasparilla's ugly underbelly, but such changes come now after neighbors documented the abuses.

They walked through the crowds with cell phone cameras and eagle eyes, snapping photos of kids pressed against police cars and passed out in ambulances, of men urinating in alleys and women doing the same behind dumpsters.

Said Baldwin: "They were very telling."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

If you go

A neighborhood meeting about Gasparilla changes will be held at 6 p.m. today at the Kate Jackson Community Center, 821 S Rome Ave. in Hyde Park.

Gasparilla changes: more security, more toilets, altered parade route 05/06/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 11:34pm]
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