In the early '90s, a series of events took place that helped revive a dying downtown, including a Main Street streetscape program, the completion of a 10-mile stretch of the Pinellas Trail and the formation of an active Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association that held events to draw in the traffic.
The first such event?
A Fat Tuesday party in 1991 when a bar at 325 Main St. (now known as the Blur nightclub) was decorated with masks, beads and festive bunting.
"The turnout was so good, the party spilled out into the street," said Gregory Brady, owner of Salon GW and president of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association.
The next year, Brady and some other business owners capitalized on that success by adding a parade with then-Mayor Manny Koutsourais as parade grand marshal and female impersonator Vanessa Valentine as their first queen.
Several thousand turned out, much to the surprise of the organizers. Today, the event is billed as "one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the Southeast."
"It's become an institution," said Brady who, in 1993, became the first president of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association. This is his sixth term.
About 30,000 people are expected to attend this year's 25th annual Dunedin Mardi Gras Parade and Festival dubbed "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves."
The festival, presented by the merchants' association, the city and Bright House Networks, is produced by CMJ Productions. It runs from 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday and then spills over to local pubs and restaurants until closing time.
Paradegoers are advised to stake out a spot along the parade route early since some attendees begin arriving shortly after lunchtime. The procession begins at 7:30 p.m. in front of the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, runs along Douglas Avenue and ends near Skinner Boulevard.
The musical lineup has expanded to four stages throughout downtown and features Grammy Award-winners Trae Pierce and the T-Stone Band as well as Cajun Dave and the N'awlins Po Boyz from the Big Easy.
Food trucks and other vendors will line Main Street. The merchants' association will be selling a special collection of masks created by maskmaker Rebecca Shelley.
The parade features about 60 floats and a drag queen to be chosen at the Blur nightclub at 7 p.m. Sunday.
New this year are VIP parking passes at $10 each ($11.34 with the website service fee) available at dunedinmardigras.com. Discounted "Bourbon Street Bucks" are available online and good for the purchase of beer, wine and merchandise.
Uber is the official ride service for the Mardi Gras event. First-time Uber users can text "MARDIGRAS25" to receive free rides to and from the festival.
VIP tickets also are available online for $55 ($57.92 with website service fee). They include access to the "VooDoo Lounge," a private VIP area along the parade route, drinks, hors d'oeuvres and desserts, and the cover charge to the after-party at the Blur.
The VIP area is located in the Ocean Optics parking lot, offering a great view from Douglas Avenue, said Corey Judge, the event organizer.
"You can't get any closer to the parade without being in it," he said.
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected]