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Hyde Park critics ask Tampa to move Gasparilla parade

TAMPA — Gasparilla parade organizers and city officials told Hyde Park residents Wednesday night that they will discuss the possibility of moving the iconic Tampa event.

At a post-parade meeting, Hyde Park residents fed up with rowdy behavior at the parade urged city officials and event organizers to either move the parade or reimburse them for protecting their homes and properties from revelers.

But after the meeting, the president of the group that organizes the parade told the St. Petersburg Times that moving the event won't solve problems like underage drinking and public rowdiness.

"We want to curb the bad behavior surrounding the event just as much as the residents," said Darrell Stefany, president of Event Fest, which hosts Gasparilla. "But moving to another neighborhood doesn't get rid of the problems, it just moves them."

Nearly a month after the last pirate stumbled home from the 2009 Gasparilla Pirate Fest, more than 30 Hyde Park residents attended the post-parade meeting at the Kate Jackson Recreation Center.

The meeting in past years has been attended by only a handful of residents. Neighbors say the increasing attendance signals that people have had it with boorish parade antics that force some residents to spend thousands of dollars protecting their homes and property.

"It's a city-sanctioned drunkfest," said Mary Lou Tuttle, who wants the parade moved downtown from its Bayshore Boulevard route.

Residents asked questions of police Chief Stephen Hogue, neighborhood services administrator Santiago Corrada and officials from the departments of health, sanitation, transportation and parks and recreation.

The officials tried to explain why they can't tackle all the neighbors' complaints.

"There are only 1,000 police officers in the city, and we borrow from other agencies to make up the 1,200 for this event," Hogue said. "But that's still 1,200 officers for 350,000 people."

Hogue said officers have to make value judgments because if they tried to arrest every lawbreaker, the force would be depleted in an hour.

To solve the public urination problem the community abhors, Stefany vowed to add more Port-O-Lets to the 800 the parade makes available.

Educators also had issues with the street party.

Gina Firth, the associate dean of students at the University of Tampa, said her office does months of education before the event, but students still drink excessively and end up in her office for adjudication.

"We're normalizing these crazy behaviors," Firth told the crowd.

She believes the parade should be alcohol free or canceled.

"Because I'm the one who has to call the parents of the student who got raped or the student who got beaten to a pulp, and I don't want to do it anymore."

Corrada assured residents the city will meet with Event Fest and work on solutions, then will return for another meeting in 60 days with a tentative plan of action.

"We're not your adversary in this," he tried to reassure the worn-out homeowners. "We are partners."

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Hyde Park critics ask Tampa to move Gasparilla parade 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 11:48pm]
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