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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Cinco de Mayo fiesta in St. Pete draws fewer than expected

ST. PETERSBURG - With pleasant weather and good entertainment, the first ever Latin American Celebration in St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park on Cinco de Mayo was poised to be a success.
But the anticipated crowds never really materialized for the event, which took the place of Taste of Pinellas, a food and music festival that was cancelled for 2013 after 26 years because of high costs and low turnout.
Organizers anticipated that about 3,000 would show up for the Cinco de Mayo celebration, which featured a lineup of Latin bands from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., classic cars, monster trucks and appearances by Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer players. About midway through the day, the festival had sold about 1,000 tickets, said Ed Morrell with event sponsor Turnstile Entertainment.
“We wanted to see what the reaction was the first year and get an idea of what people like and don't like so we can tweak it and make it better going forward,” Morrell said. “There are other Cinco de Mayo celebrations going on today, but we felt that in general the market here was underserved and it was time to not only recognize the Hispanic community and culture here but all Latin Americans.”
Though attendance was sparse, there is a growing need for more Latin events in the area said BAILE dance instructor Greg Richardson. His salsa classes at Baywalk draw upwards of 1,000 people from all over the Tampa Bay area, he said, but organized Latin events in St. Petersburg are hard to come by.
“The downturn in the economy a few years ago really took a toll on the number of venues,” Richardson said. “I would have a gig and then get a call in the middle of the week saying, 'We're not going to be open next week,' and then it was always a struggle to find another venue. I really hope this sticks around.”
Diego Restrepo, the Rowdies' Colombian goalkeeper, agreed.
“St. Petersburg is really a white community, but you can see, when you go out at night, that the Latin population is starting to grow,” Restrepo said. “It's great that there is more diversity here, and a lot of our fans are Latin American … but there is still room to improve.”
Pinellas County's Hispanic population has grown more than 71 percent in a decade, according to 2010 Census data, and is surpassing the Hispanic growth rate throughout Florida. St. Petersburg has the largest number of Hispanics in the county and has the population increase by more than 54 percent over the decade.
Down the street from the festival, Red Mesa Cantina prepared for its annual Cinco de Mayo block party, which typically draws several thousand people looking for booze, games, music and ice cream. Red Mesa owner Peter Veytia III said the event's success comes from years of trial and error and word of mouth.
“We've just gotten busier and busier. When we first opened four years ago we were the only Mexican restaurant in this area,” Veytia said. “People know to come here; it's a staple for Cinco de Mayo. It's a free party that we throw to give back to the community, but it took some time to build it up.”
Those that attended the festival paid a $13 cover.
Ida Pujols from Pinellas Park said she wished there were more Latin food vendors. The vendors were all volunteers, Morrell said, and ranged from shaved ice trucks to Michelle Faedo's On the Go, which won the 2012 and 2013 Cuban Sandwich Festival.
“I'm Puerto Rican, so we came here to enjoy the Latin environment as a family,” Pujols said. “We don't like driving all the way to Tampa for Latin events, and we shouldn't have to when there is a large Latin population on this side of the bay. If they had more food, I'd probably come back.”
Brenda Barbosa had a great time as she took part in free salsa lessons and flitted from vendor to vendor. Originally from Miami, Barbosa traveled from her home in Punta Gorda to celebrate her 40th birthday in St. Petersburg and got a kick out of watching the eclectic crowd learn to salsa dance.
“For me, Latin culture is common, so watching these different age groups and these big white guys salsa dancing is awesome,” Barbosa said. “There's always fun stuff to do in St. Petersburg, and I hope this will keep growing.”

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