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Along Bayshore, residents are resigned to join the party at Gasparilla time

Harry Barkett and Carmen Barkett will host a Gasparilla bash like none other Jan. 30. [AMY SCHERZER | Times]
Published Jan. 25, 2018

ALONG THE BAYSHORE -- For 364 days a year, Bayshore Boulevard residents lay claim to a serene scene edging Hillsborough Bay, happily shared with strollers, joggers and bikers along the 4.5 mile landscaped linear parkway, its iconic balustrade running from the Columbus Statue Park all the way to Gandy Boulevard.

Then comes That Day.

Gasparilla.

Once it was the bane of Bayshore existence. For years, neighbors told a litany of true horror stories of fighting, public urination and underage intoxication. Town hall meetings grew heated with demands to reroute the signature parade path further from their property.

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Organizers responded by augmenting activities and entertainment downtown to draw crowds off the residential route. They enforced stricter security measures and also added more portable toilets.

Now, many residents seem to have struck a Faustian bargain for a 24-hour headache, accepting the chaos and craziness of many thousands of revelers with a "if you can't beat them, party with them" mentality.

Five Bayshore homeowners share their observations and best practices for survival along the corridor, which can serve as a festive backdrop for house parties or turn into a boulevard of broken dreams.

Margo and Gary Harrod entertained in a big way for 10 years, now boating is their main event, following the flotilla with guests from Texas. Then the whole group will walk to a friend's tent to watch the parade go by.

"We used to have a tent out front, up close and personal, and it was so much fun," said Margo Harrod. "And then my friends got too old and started babysitting so their children could go to the parade."

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This is the first time the Harrods have erected a fence instead of relying on a 4-foot brick wall and two security guards to keep strangers out of the huge front yard planted with hundreds of roses. "They had to work way too hard last year," she said.

Even after all these years, the couple can still be surprised at the swarming spectacle.

"It is what it is," she said. "It's shocking in some instances, but it's the greatest people-watching day of the year. You just hunker down and enjoy."

Harrod is not at all worried about her prized rose garden. Monday is pruning day anyway.

"I think people think that they are invisible that day for some reason."

Realtor Jim Walters has owned two different Bayshore Boulevard homes, and is in the midst of renovating a third with husband David Sharpe, one house away from a corner in the heart of the parade route.

"It won't be ready for this year, but watch out for next year's party," he said. Walters says he obsesses about every detail and learns from every mistake.

"The first year we let people go all over the house, major mistake," he said. "Things got broken and things were stolen. After that we learned to rope off the entry to the second story."

With tight logistics and much preparation involved, the couple hire Event Planners of Tampa to shoo them away and take charge.

"I'm very particular," he said, estimating spending upwards of $15,000 on catering, security and music. "It's not just a platter of Cuban sandwiches and chips," he said.

"The worst year we had 600 people," he said. "Don't do that… 250 to 300 is the perfect number."

Carmen and Harry Barkett, president and CEO of Amalie Oil, tie corporate hospitality to Gasparilla, since word spread through the industry "that we have a rocking party when Tampa turns into a pirate town," she said.

"Our party is changing dramatically. People - vendors and suppliers - are hearing through the grapevine and they are coming from Texas and California, Virginia and Michigan - all over the country.

"We'll have several hundred in the tent until late into the night," Carmen continued, "many who have never experienced it and are going out and finding pirate gear."

Local employees and their families have already been coming to the bosses' party for the six years the Barkett's have lived in the Bayshore mansion.

"We realized when we bought the house that Gasparilla comes with the territory," she said. "And it just keeps getting bigger. People don't realize how much goes into the planning. It's a balancing act. I wish we could say yes to everyone."

A private dinner the night before the parade for 140 guests, "is strictly corporate," said Carmen, who is also expecting 18 overnight houseguests.

"So it's social nonstop until they're back on the planes Sunday."

Alyce Gross understands why people love Gasparilla. "It allows a theme for entertaining that pleases many, but frankly, as we age, I do believe it gets old, most especially if one drinks less."

She prefers a small scale parade party, "quieter, but happy. Our friends know I have an open bar and porch upon which we enjoy not only good spirits but great conversation."

From her front row perspective, Gross sees police presence and enforcement getting stronger every year, her son, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's corporal, being a big part of it. He grills hot dogs and hamburgers for co-workers when they wrap up their shift, "and we hear all the fun stories," she said. "That may be the best part of the day."

Tampa newcomers Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow didn't know a Gasparilla crown from Queen Elizabeth's topper when they left Essex, England and bought their Bayshore home in June 2017.

"The neighbors started telling us about it and we started to Google it and got a little bit terrified," said Barrie. "It sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah, raunchy men and women coming from all over."

Undeterred, in fact, wildly enthusiastic, the couple and their five children expect around 100 school and business friends. Tony is president and Barrie is chief operating officer of Princeton Consumer Research.

"We're amazingly placed so we've kinda ended up inheriting a party," Barrie said. "We ended up paying for a 6-foot fence around the house, but not for the armed guards. Lots of our friends are big guys and we do have cameras installed."

The family is in the process of filming a reality show, similar to one they produced in the U.K. called the Parentmakers, based on their story of becoming the first same-sex couple to use surrogates to carry their children: 18-year-old fraternal twins, a 14-year-old son and twin 7-year-old boys. They were the first babies from Europe to have both dads on the birth certificates.

"We'll just have to wait and see. The things I've heard haven't been really good… people urinating, pulling up bushes and sticking flower pots in the swimming pool," Barrie said.

"Actually, I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't been this excited since the first set of twins were born."

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