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Some see too much gasp! in Gasparilla

TAMPA — People in Tampa's historic Hyde Park love their neighborhood. And they generally like the Gasparilla pirate parade.

But some hate what Gasparilla does to Hyde Park.

Overwhelming crowds. Drunken teenagers. Indiscreet sex. Fights over portable toilets. Paradegoers vomiting, urinating and defecating in the street.

All add up to "legitimate safety and planning concerns," says the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.

The 200-member association raised those concerns with the city and parade organizer EventFest in the months leading up to Saturday's Pirate Fest parade, which could draw more than 400,000 people.

"The neighborhood itself that's hosting it is not too happy, and we really have no place to go," said association vice president Jack Wyatt, who presented the group's position at a meeting in November.

And it's not just Hyde Park. Talk to people who live near the parade route on Bayshore Boulevard, and you hear true ambivalence.

"This is the pride of Tampa," said Vicki Pollyea, president of the Bayshore Gardens Neighborhood Association. "I grew up here. I was born here. I love Gasparilla. That said, I lock my door and stay inside now."

Noting that she was speaking for herself and not her association, she added, "the day of the parade, there's more a feeling that we're under siege. That's how neighbors refer to it."

Leland Baldwin sees the worst of it.

Baldwin, a former prosecutor, runs the St. John's Episcopal Church Safe House, a refuge for teenagers who have had too much to drink.

She describes finding a 26-year-old woman from New York passed out in the bushes behind her church, fights, people having sex in public and two young women, skirts hiked up and panties pulled down, "taking a poo-poo right on the sidewalk."

"It goes against everybody's grain when you see something like that," she said.

"We were like, 'Wow, we didn't realize that was going on with you,' " said Shannon Edge, Tampa's director of neighborhood and community relations. "That was eye-opening, and that was disturbing."

Several things have changed Gasparilla to magnify its impact on neighborhoods, residents and others say.

First, the event grew explosively after 1988, when Ye Mystic Krewe moved it from Monday to Saturday.

Also, neighborhood groups say the number of bleacher seats and corporate hospitality tents take up more and more space. But they accommodate only an estimated 7 percent of the crowd.

"That means 93 percent of the people are in our yards," Wyatt said. "I don't know if that's safe."

At the same time, the popular children's parade, which took place Jan. 24 this year, seems to draw away the moderating influence of families with children. So the scene at Pirate Fest is less Ozzie and Harriet, more Ozzy Osbourne.

"This is more of an older crowd than the children's parade," Tampa police Maj. Marc Hamlin said. "It is more challenging primarily because of the alcohol."

Both the city and EventFest have taken steps to address residents' concerns.

Police will have more than 1,000 officers, sheriff's deputies and Highway Patrol troopers working the event. That will include a large contingent of undercover officers watching trouble spots identified by residents.

"We are going to be very strict on under­aged drinking and open containers in unauthorized areas," Hamlin said. "If it comes to our attention, or if it's observed by police officers, they'll be expected to take action. There will be no looking the other way."

Baldwin said she appreciates the city posting an EMS crew near the Safe House, and organizers relocating and more than doubling the number of portable toilets near the church.

Both city officials and EventFest president Darrell Stefany said they take seriously and act on what they hear from neighbors. They also meet after every Gasparilla to compare notes and consider improvements for the next year.

"I think there will be an initiative to put the neighborhoods in that (meeting) for their input," Stefany said. "We want to try to address those things and address them as soon as we can after the event."

This year, there will be nearly three dozen corporate sponsor tents. That's down about 25 percent from recent years because of the economy.

Stefany noted that organizers lengthened the parade route by about a mile when they started letting sponsors book space for the hospitality tents.

The thinking was, "if we're going to look at some linear footage on the parade route for sponsors then we need to at least keep the same amount of space on the parade route for the public," he said.

And those sponsors play a vital role in making the event happen, he said.

As a co-sponsor of the event, the city covers public safety costs, which made up most of the $411,000 the city spent last year on Gasparilla.

The rest of what goes into Gasparilla — both parades, the fireworks, the multiple festival stages, the bands, the trash boxes and the portable toilets — comes from the event budget.

EventFest's budget is about $1.3 million, including in-kind contributions, Stefany said, adding that Ye Mystic Krewe also spends more than $600,000 putting on the event.

The bleacher seats, which cost $28 for the Pirate Fest, are offered so people who want to be sure they have a place to sit can have one, he said. The hospitality tents are a memorable and unique way to thank sponsors, he said.

As for the idea that Gasparilla has changed — gotten bawdier or rougher — because of the growth of the children's parade or anything else, Stefany says he's not sure he buys that.

Both parades, he said, are "family events from the start to the finish." If people see more than they used to, then he points out that they see more on TV, in movies and at nightclubs than they used to as well.

"I think that's more of a statement about society and culture today than it is about Gasparilla," he said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

See a problem?

Neighborhood groups want to document the effects of Gasparilla. If you take a photo of something city officials and parade organizers should know about, e-mail it to vp@ehydepark.org or mail it to Vice President, Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, P.O. Box 2990, Tampa, FL 33601.

Gasparilla arrests

2004: 100

2005: 5

2006: 40

2007: 85

2008: 84

FAST FACTs

See a problem?

Neighborhood groups want to document the effects of Gasparilla. If you take a photo of something city officials and parade organizers should know about, e-mail it to vp@ehydepark.org or mail it to Vice President, Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, P.O. Box 2990, Tampa, FL 33601.

Gasparilla arrests

2004 — 100

2005 — 5

2006 — 40

2007 — 85

2008 — 84

Some see too much gasp! in Gasparilla 02/05/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 10:09am]

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