TREASURE ISLAND — Last Memorial Day weekend nearly 8,000 holiday visitors packed Sunset Beach, raising a firestorm of complaints from residents.
This past weekend was a very different story.
Virtually no one showed up.
There were about 400 to 500 beachgoers each day on Caddy's privately owned beach, but they were well-behaved, according to Treasure Island Police Chief Tim Casey.
"The Caddy's crowd realizes they must pay for parking and buy their drinks inside," Casey said. "They are smarter with the money they spend and we don't have the same kind of problems."
But to the north and south, where often rowdy crowds used to bring their beer-laden coolers to stay all day, there were barely two dozen people each day over the weekend.
"It was like there was nothing going on at all. It was a phenomenal difference. It was like the road had been shut off someplace. There was no traffic at all," Treasure Island Police Chief Tim Casey said Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, the city banned drinking on parts of Sunset Beach.
Two groups of people did show up on Sunday with alcohol, but after being warned left with no problem, Casey said.
Instead of issuing hundreds of parking tickets over a busy holiday weekend, police issued only 17 tickets on Memorial Day itself. Saturday was much the same, while 50 parking tickets were issued Sunday.
There was one arrest on Saturday and three on Monday — mostly for disorderly conduct at Caddy's.
As a result, Casey decided to cut his weekend beach detail in half.
In previous years, beginning at spring break and continuing through the summer, it was not unusual for Casey to assign 10 police officers to patrol the beach and neighborhood streets. Now there will be five officers.
Since the change in the rules, the weekend beach crowds of mostly Hillsborough County beachgoers have disappeared.
Caddy's owner Tony Amico said Tuesday he is happy with the change.
"Caddy's is back to its old self," Amico said. "We had a very nice, very diverse crowd. There were seniors and families with kids. Everybody had a great time and were able to drink on our beach."
Because Amico owns the beach all the way to the high water line, the city's new alcohol ban does not apply to his property.
Also, the rules still allow alcohol on the rest of the city's beaches, where residents and visitors alike bring their wine or beer to the beach.
The previous Sunset Beach crowds did not show up elsewhere in the city, Casey said, even though the popular annual Bands on the Sand event was held Saturday.
Where the crowds of drinkers have gone, he does not know.
"We advertised the change pretty aggressively," Casey said. "My gut feeling is this has and will continue to make a significant difference. There is a reason why all other beaches in the county banned alcohol. The proof is right here."