The people behind Gasparilla deserve credit for proposing a series of steps to tone down the drinking and rowdiness at the annual parade. More police officers and portable toilets, better crowd control, rerouting the parade through open spaces downtown — these are all sensible ideas that should temper the anything-goes behavior that has come to define Tampa's signature event.
Residents of Hyde Park along the Bayshore Boulevard parade route have had to deal for years with people drinking, urinating and trampling on their lawns to and from the parade route. But it was the explosion of YouTube and cell phone cameras that finally documented the ugly behavior they have complained about for years.
After meeting with residents, Ye Mystic Krewe captain Jim Robbins and EventFest president Darrell Stefany have proposed a number of promising solutions. They will double — to 1,600 — the number of portable toilets, and place more nearer the parade route. More police officers will be hired and spread throughout neighborhoods. And a mobile unit will be nearby to process arrests more quickly.
Organizers also will open a half-mile section of Bayshore on the water side where the public may view the parade for free. This area was formerly reserved for paid seating, but those bleachers will be moved closer to the parade start. Expanding the area where the public may watch for free should lessen the congestion and fighting along the route for space and beads. The parade route will move into downtown, up Ashley Drive, past what will be the newly opened Curtis Hixon Park. The waterfront park and its adjacent multilevel parking garage are well suited to handle the crowd, provided the city does better than usual in getting cars in and out of downtown during an event.
By their activism, Hyde Park residents have helped to make the parade experience better for all. The krewe and EventFest did a good job of responding to concerns. Best of all, they came up with solutions that did not include a ridiculous call to move the parade route off Bayshore, a public park. The Bayshore and Hyde Park will be safer, and paradegoers will be introduced to new downtown venues, including Curtis Hixon Park, museums, the Riverwalk and outdoor restaurants. This is a good outcome. Let's see after the next parade, Jan. 30, whether more needs to be done.