TAMPA — Now that the costumed revelers are gone and the cleanup is done, Guavaween organizers are reflecting on the annual Halloween event that drew its smallest crowd in recent memory.
Tampa police estimated attendance Saturday at about 15,000, less than the nearly 35,000 that turned out last year. In previous years, several times as many participated.
Organizers say the final numbers aren't in, and think police estimates are low. But Tom Keating, who heads the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, blames any attendance drop on the economy and the fact that the event fell on Halloween night, which increased competition.
It's possible, he said, some people stayed away because there were no motorized floats in the annual Guavaween parade this year.
Keating called the event a success, despite complaints from some Ybor business owners. "It was less pushing and shoving. People were in costume," he said. "Nobody got hurt, which I think is fantastic. You have too many people here, there are problems."
Some Ybor business owners are complaining about the gates and admission fee, which was $17 this year, saying it chased potential customers away.
Teri Cox Hickey, president of CC Event Productions, which produces and promotes the event, said the fence helps keep the event manageable.
"It started 15 years ago when Mayor Sandy Freedman said get this under control or else," she said. "One of the ways we got it under control was the gates."
She also said the gates allow the entire space inside to be wet zoned, which helps businesses selling unopened containers of alcohol.
Keating argues that even at $17 a ticket, it's still less expensive than admission to Halloween activities at Busch Gardens.
"We're trying to balance out our costs with the city and with the promotion and with the entertainment with the amount of people we have. It's not an easy formula," Keating said. "I'm slowly but surely massaging these events so they become better for the business community."
As for the floats, Keating said, he still needs to weigh that decision.
Organizers banned them this year, saying they wanted to reduce the expense of putting up and taking down barricades. They also reasoned that removing the barricades would give eventgoers better access to businesses along Seventh Avenue.
Don Barco, owner of the King Corona cigar bar on Seventh Avenue, said that approach might have worked. He said he made more money this year than last, even with a smaller crowd.
Costa Waez, owner of the Acropolis restaurant on Seventh Avenue, said Guavaween is always a disaster for him.
He estimated his business was down 70 percent from a typical Saturday. People called in for takeout and didn't pick up their orders when they learned they had to pay at the gate to get their food. Others ate at his sidewalk cafe and used the cover of the crowd to leave without paying their bills.
And he had to be constantly vigilant that no one left his restaurant with an alcoholic beverage or he would face a $10,000 fine, he said.
"It was just a hassle. The whole thing was a hassle," he said.
Keating acknowledges that Guavaween night is not necessarily a boon to the entire district.
"It's better for the bars than it is for the restaurants, and it's better for the businesses on Seventh Avenue than the ones on Eighth Avenue," he said.
But as a promotional tool that brings attention to Ybor City, it should have year-round benefits for all Ybor businesses, he said.
"We're constantly trying to make Guavaween better," he said. "And better is qualitative, not quantitative."
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.