Most Tampa residents need to rattle their brains to remember when Guavaween was celebrated to honor the artists in Ybor City's old Latin Quarter. Over the last couple of decades, the anything-goes Halloween celebration has become little more than a booze-soaked event. That's why it's good the Ybor Chamber of Commerce is looking to bring Guavaween back toward its roots.
Ybor was a ghost town back in the 1980s. Artists gobbled up the vacant warehouses and loft space, turning living rooms into studios and word-of-mouth poetry slams. Halloween was a time for music and parties, which led to a parade — here called a "stumble" — where artsy types donned costumes that made fun of Tampa's people and traditions.
Over time, Ybor gentrified and so did Guavaween. Even before the chain stores and the Seattle coffee shops moved in, Guavaween turned from a quirky event to boozy block party. The overcommercialization, entry fees, fenced-off zones and adult themes marginalized its appeal. Many Ybor businesses suffered because customers did not want to navigate a rowdy gantlet for a meal or a stroll through the Latin Quarter.
The chamber wants to tone down the atmosphere. Under a plan headed to the Tampa City Council, the entry fees and the outdoor wet zone would go — and along with them, the fences. The event would still host live music across Ybor at about half a dozen venues, where tickets would go for $20. But otherwise the event would be free.
The move would not bring Guavaween back to its original form. But removing the fences would restore the sense of connection with Ybor that first drew the artists to the charming quarter. Restaurants and other businesses also would have the chance to introduce themselves to thousands of new visitors. And ending the open drinking on the street would foster a respectful mentality toward Ybor that befits a landmark historic district.
The city of Tampa cleaned up the Gasparilla parade two years ago after tolerating many of the same complaints. The parade experience is better than it has been for decades. The chamber is right to bring some balance to Guavaween, and to think longer term about the district's image. Ybor's business community also deserves credit for addressing a sensitive problem. Ybor has a rich mix for any visitor, from fine restaurants and shops to tourist sites. The plan for Guavaween is another step toward making Ybor even more inviting. The City Council should support it.