The forecast for today's Gasparilla parade — sunny, light winds, highs in the upper 60s — could not be better. Add to that the improvements in security and crowd control that Tampa adopted last year, and today's parade could wind up with a historic turnout for an event that draws hundreds of thousands to Bayshore Boulevard every year. So use this opportunity to take in Gasparilla's newest tradition — a relatively orderly pirate festival — and the new museums, parks and other sights along Tampa's downtown riverfront.
Last year's Gasparilla was nothing like the booze-fueled free-for-alls of the recent past. The city and event organizers finally addressed the years-old problems of underage drinking, public drunkenness and nudity, and the overall party atmosphere that had degraded the experience of the day. Organizers doubled the number of portable toilets. Police showed a greater presence in Hyde Park, helping move pedestrians through the neighborhoods and sparing the homeowners the usual grief of vandalism and public urination. And moving the parade deeper into downtown helped spread out the masses and ease the post-parade traffic crunch.
Last year was an experiment of sorts. The rain helped dampen the chaos, too. But organizers found a winning formula — one that probably will be tested, given the gorgeous weather expected to bring out the hordes today. The city will need to enforce the same codes of sensible conduct if it hopes to change the image of the Gasparilla experience.
And why would it not? The city should relish the chance to draw as many residents and tourists as possible down to Bayshore, which is not only one of Tampa's most beautiful spots, but also a public park. And snaking the parade into downtown now gives spectators the chance to explore a whole new look of the city. The newly opened condos, museums and Curtis Hixon waterfront park will sparkle in the sunlight. Across the river, the minarets at the University of Tampa, which in its former days as a luxury hotel hosted Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, will stand as a visual backdrop between the old and the new. So get out — for the cannons, the floats, the beads or the bands, or just a glimpse of a city that keeps making history.