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Ybor chamber wants outdoor drinking zone, entrance fee eliminated for Guavaween

YBOR CITY — The next Guavaween could look much different if Ybor's Chamber of Commerce gets its way.

The fences would come down. The outdoor wet zone for alcohol and entrance fee would disappear. And many of the district's businesses couldn't be happier.

Some restaurants and bar owners saw a decline in patronage in recent years during this uniquely Tampa celebration of Halloween. They figured potential customers weren't interested in paying $17, plus parking, to get into a fenced-off zone surrounding their businesses.

Without the outdoor wet zone or fee, there's no need for fences.

"People will come down, just to take a look," said Tampa Bay Brewing Co. owner Vicki Double.

She thinks her restaurant will see more business. So does Green Iguana Bar & Grill manager Bryce McGarvey.

"I'm hoping it will be big," he said.

Ybor chamber president Tom Keating said he has received a lot of support for the proposal, which he filed with the city last week. But, he said he got his first angry email Thursday from someone who wanted to be able to drink in the street.

"They can pop into a bar, they can sit cafeside with any restaurant that has a license," he said. "And there's the balconies."

Though many details need to be worked out, the Ybor chamber is proposing a 40-float parade from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., then a costume contest, followed by live music at six to nine Ybor venues until 1 a.m.

Access to all the music venues would cost $20. Otherwise, Guavaween would be free.

These proposed changes are the most recent in a string of attempts to revive the 26-year-long Halloween tradition, which has seen smaller crowds in recent years. A ban on floats in 2009 and 2010 was meant to bring the event to its pedestrian roots, but it met opposition and organizers saw a decline in attendance. Last year, they allowed floats.

The proposal for this year's changes still needs Tampa City Council support, and it seems the chamber will get it as long as it doesn't require financial support. Event organizers would be expected to continue to pay for extra police officers, paramedics and cleanup services.

"I told them that I really didn't care about the format," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday. "But what I was concerned about was that they continue to pay for those off-duty officers."

City Council member Harry Cohen said he met with members of an Ybor City merchants association about a month ago, and the clear message he got was that Guavaween recently has become a detriment to business in the Latin Quarter.

As a result, Cohen said he is less concerned about the details of any changes — Will drinking on the street be allowed? Will there be a fence? — than about hearing there's a strong consensus in favor of a proposal.

"It's really got to be something everybody buys into," he said. "That, to me, is the threshold question to ask."

Tampa police say they plan to provide the same on-duty police presence, even with an elimination of the wet zone.

"Whether the drinking is inside or out, I think there will still be a large crowd and a large consumption of alcohol," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

And even though drinking wouldn't be allowed in the streets, don't bring the kids, Keating advised.

"The raciness and scariness of the costumes has always created a bit of an issues of transitioning," he said. "We don't encourage a younger crowd."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Ybor chamber wants outdoor drinking zone, entrance fee eliminated for Guavaween 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 11:36pm]
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