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What party? No day-after mess to Gasparilla in Tampa

TAMPA — A day after Gasparilla, the city woke up, looked around and decided it wasn't as hung over as last year.

Water has always been a key ingredient to avoiding those next-day headaches, and it was clear that Saturday's rainfall limited crowds and helped tamp down the crude behavior that in years past had frustrated so many residents who live on or near Bayshore Boulevard.

But so had the police, who employed a zero-tolerance enforcement strategy that resulted in more than triple the number of arrests in 2009.

"Everybody I've spoken to says this is the most civilized Gasparilla ever," City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said. "The police did a great job of getting the word out that they were going to be serious about open containers and public urination. Both public and private schools got the word out that teenage drinking would not be tolerated. And lastly, I think the rain tempered people. It was a really positive day.

"I was so proud of Tampa."

From Bayshore to downtown, people savored the good times of Gasparilla that left the city without any shame or regret.

"It was a definite improvement," said Tina Mason as she rolled up mesh fencing around her Bayshore Boulevard home that kept marauding Gasparilla-goers off her property. "I think the rain played a large role. I think this is the first time I didn't see anyone urinating. Usually, I see a couple dozen, but not even in the alley.

"Whatever the city did worked."

Besieged by complaints of lewd behavior, the city took a multipronged approach.

Tampa police put 275 officers on neighborhood patrol, up from 225, to go along with more than 1,100 law enforcement officers on the parade route. Portable toilets doubled from 800 to 1,600. A vast public service campaign targeted underage drinkers with posters, billboards and police lectures that may have contributed to just three high school students being charged with alcohol possession.

Overall, Tampa police made 413 arrests, up from 127 last year. Of those, 406 were for misdemeanors such as possession of an open alcohol container. Most arrested were handed affidavits and released on the spot.

Seven people face felony charges, including battery on a law enforcement officer or police horse, using fake identification and possession of a felony amount of marijuana, said Tampa police Lt. Ronald McMullen.

Also central to the city's new strategy was the rerouting of the parade to funnel festivities to the $43.6 million Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, unveiled just a week ago.

Mayor Pam Iorio had designated the park as the Gasparilla location to "let loose and party" away from Bayshore mansions and private property.

How did Tampa's new downtown jewel fare under all that foot traffic?

"You wouldn't think they had a party here," said Mary Callahan of St. Petersburg, as she walked through the park Sunday. "It looks good. It looks great."

By 10 a.m., the park showed no signs of being stampeded by thousands of beer-and-bead-clad revelers. The shrubs and other plants lining Ashley Drive and the Tampa Museum of Art seemed untrampled and nary a piece of mulch seemed out of place. Only a few empty cigarette cartons were strewn about.

In the background, only a giant soundstage from the Collective Soul concert remained as a clue of what had gone on.

"Except for this stage, I don't see any sign," said Ron Seaman of South Tampa.

Seaman, 40, attended the parade with his family and marveled the next day at how neat everything seemed all along the parade route.

"With the exceptions of beads in the trees," he said, "you wouldn't think there was a parade at all."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

What party? No day-after mess to Gasparilla in Tampa 01/31/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 3:28pm]
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