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Tampa's Guavaween parade gets scrapped

YBOR CITY — There's going to be a lot less stumbling at this year's Guavaween celebration.

Faced with a tight budget, the city of Tampa has declined to co-sponsor the Halloween event, leading the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce to scrap the annual Mama Guava Stumble Parade. The raucous event featuring costumes, floats, music and revelry that rolled down Seventh Avenue had been a Guavaween fixture.

"We're caught between a rock and a hard place," Chamber president Tom Keating said. "We want to be able to accommodate the people who have been coming out for this event for the last 25 years, but we're clearly going to need to make some changes."

For two decades, Guavaween was a fenced event with an entry fee at the gate. City officials say that closed-in, ticketed events are not eligible for city co-sponsorship.

This spring, organizers went to a format with no fence and no gate at the request of Ybor City merchants, who said the fence killed their business.

But keeping Ybor City stumbling came at no small cost. Keating estimates that $45,000 to $55,000 was spent annually to employ extra police officers, block off streets and provide other city services.

When it was charging admission, the Chamber paid those expenses. But without a fee at the gate to help cover those costs, the Chamber turned to the city for help. The city said no.

"Due to the difficult economic climate we find ourselves experiencing, we will not be able to co-sponsor your event," Susan Robinson, the supervisor of the city parks and recreation department's office of special events, wrote in a June 28 letter to Keating.

The easiest way to eliminate the need for many city services was to cut the parade, Keating said, so that's what they did.

This decision comes on the heels of another big change to the festival: No more wet zone where attendees can drink alcohol in the streets.

But no wet zone and no fences also means no entrance fee, a change Chamber officials and local bar and restaurant owners say could drive up attendance. Last year, about 20,000 people opted to pay for parking plus the $17 entrance fee.

"The parade really isn't as important as some people and some media organizations make it out to be," Keating said. "It's still a really cool event where we'll have people in costume and there will be no wet zone, but people can certainly drink inside and wander around from place to place as much as they like."

Much of the festival will remain intact, if slightly altered. A costume contest that typically takes place during the Stumble Parade will still happen, but could be moved inside to a local business, Keating said. Concerts will also be moved inside, setting the stage for a possible pub crawl.

It was not immediately clear what resources the city would have to pour into the restructured event, Tampa spokeswoman Ali Glisson said.

Chamber officials aren't sure how the changes will affect the Oct. 27 event's attendance or revenue.

"Bottom line, it's Halloween and it's Ybor City," Keating said. "Guavaween is going to happen. People will come here. Change isn't necessarily a bad thing."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386.

Tampa's Guavaween parade gets scrapped 08/03/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 3, 2012 9:04pm]
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