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Tampa, St. Petersburg cancel MLK Day parades due to rain

Stormy weather snuffed one celebration after another: Tampa, north Pinellas County, New Port Richey, Brooksville. By 9:15 a.m., all Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parades were canceled.

Except one.

"If Dr. King could march in the rain for freedom," St. Petersburg parade coordinator Sevell Brown said, "so shall we."

Less than two hours later, Brown, too, relented, after speaking to meteorologists about how bad the rain and lightning could get.

"That becomes a public safety issue," he said. "I was left with no choice.''

His hesitation was understandable, since St. Petersburg hosts one of the largest and most well-known parades in the Southeast. More than 20 high school and college marching bands from around the region, 120 floats and tens of thousands of spectators were expected.

The first such cancellation in 26 years, it was a sad end to parade planning that starts the previous February and involves about 120 people. Above all, Brown said, he regrets not being able to pay tribute to King.

"That,'' he said, "is the saddest thing of all."

• • •

Rescheduling a parade is even more difficult than it sounds. Aside from asking marchers and float operators to rearrange their schedules and return, there are permits and police staffing issues to consider.

Of all of the area cancellations, Brooksville was the only city to reschedule the parade and all of the other day's festivities for another day — Feb. 19, the Saturday before Presidents' Day.

Frank Bell, involved in planning Tampa's parade since it was a mere symbolic walk in 1989, said he didn't recall the Tampa event ever being canceled. He was told it had been canceled once and rescheduled for the next day, but he couldn't confirm that. Nor did he feel he could pull off that kind of feat.

"We operate on the King holiday," Bell said. "There's a whole lot involved in getting the parade done, with security and getting those permits to have a parade. It takes up quite a bit of time, a lot of meetings."

People have been asking him if the parade would be rescheduled. His answer was no.

"The committee will assess everything," he said, "and in about two weeks, we'll start working on the 2012 parade."

The holiday wasn't a total washout.

Several indoor events and prayer breakfasts were planned throughout the area and most of them took place through the weekend and on Monday.

Although a 10:30 a.m. quarter-mile march in Port Richey was canceled Monday, a commemorative program at the Booker T. Washington Schoolhouse featuring music and speakers went forward. A Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally scheduled for Coachman Park in Clearwater was moved indoors to the North Greenwood Aquatic Center.

On Sunday night, the Martin Luther King National Drum Major for Justice Battle of the Bands at Tropicana Field was as electrifying and crowd-pleasing as ever. The event featured 10 bands and drum lines from around Florida and Georgia.

But without the famous parade to end the weekend-long celebration in St. Petersburg, the city felt like something was missing.

• • •

Covered in a wet rain poncho, Rosita Hubbard and family members worked a barbecue stand at Fourth Street and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, along the parade route.

Over the past four years, people have been shoulder-to-shoulder clamoring for their bourbon chicken, ribs and pork sandwiches. "We can never enjoy the parade because we're swamped," she said. This year, they enjoyed neither the parade nor the brisk business.

Much of the 100 pounds of chicken, 70 pounds of pork and large containers of potato salad, baked beans and greens were left around lunchtime. Only a few umbrella-carrying workers from nearby businesses braved the chilly rain, which dropped less than an inch over most of Tampa Bay but up to two or three inches in some areas.

Michele Barajas, 51, swung by the stand for lunch, lured from her nearby office by delicious-smelling smoke coming from the tent's grill. She comes down to the parade every year to eat and this year was no different.

"We haven't had rain in months and it had to pour today," she told Hubbard while ordering chicken, pork and a side of potato salad and baked beans.

"It's just bad luck."

Times staff writers Jack Nicas, Ileana Morales, Molly Moorhead and Logan Neill contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com.

Tampa, St. Petersburg cancel MLK Day parades due to rain 01/17/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 17, 2011 11:42pm]
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