TAMPA — City leaders and event planners received praise Thursday from most of the Hyde Park and Bayshore Boulevard residents who came to learn about the changes they propose aimed at cleaning up the annual Gasparilla parade.
A few of the 40 or more who attended the meeting Thursday night at Kate Jackson Recreation Center still advocated moving the parade off Bayshore, but most said the city's plans to increase enforcement, double the number of portable toilets, extend and modify the parade route and reach out to local schools about under-age drinking was a gigantic step in the right direction.
Police Maj. Marc Hamlin told the crowd that Tampa police will ask for sheriff's deputies to take responsibility for more of the parade route, freeing city police to patrol neighborhoods and keep rowdy drinkers from urinating and defecating in public.
"We're going to have more mobile booking units so we'll be making more arrests," he said.
EventFest president Darrell Stefany said they will increase the number of Port-O-Lets from 800 to 1,600 and service them during the parade, which will technically quadruple the number by state health rules.
"I think (the new plans are) terrific," said Jack Wyatt, vice president of Hyde Park Preservation Inc. "But it's a tough venue. They talked about Mardi Gras and compared it to Mardi Gras not having Port-O-Lets, but Canal Street has lots of restaurants and bars. Bayshore doesn't."
Wyatt doesn't support a venue change, but said EventFest should get rid of paid seating and corporate tents.
"They city pays $656,000 this year to put on this event and we don't get any (profits) in return," he said. "The seating should be eliminated altogether."
Stefany said no profits are made by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on the parade, and that the corporate tents and seating funds pay the expenses of the 104-year-old event.
The change of the downtown portion of the parade route received a warm reception, as Tampa Department of Public Works director Irvin Lee explained that the move to Ashley Drive from Platt Street creates 70,000 more square feet of viewing space for crowds, and allows paradegoers to enjoy the festivities from Curtis Hixon Park. And the community seemed most pleased with efforts to use the event's clout to educate the young about under-age drinking.
"We're very impressed with the good work that has been done so far," said Ellen Snelling of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition.
She suggested organizers ban open containers and create dry zones on the parade route.