Gasparilla Pirate Festival invades Tampa on Saturday
People seeking prime viewing spots for Gasparilla better arrive along the route considerably earlier Saturday than in prior years, parade officials warn. Landscaping improvements the city made along Bayshore Boulevard prior to the Republican National Convention will force several blocks of the crowd back this year, separating attendees several more feet from pirates, floats and beads. "Honestly, from a parade standpoint it's probably not a positive for parade viewing," said Darrell Stefany, president of EventFest, the group that helps put on the pirate invasion. The city spent more than $600,000 before the RNC making sure Bayshore landscaping gave a favorable impression of Tampa. But to prevent those improvements from being pillaged and plundered during Gasparilla, the city is investing about $4,000 on bike racks to surround foliage on the medians along a roughly 1-mile stretch of Bayshore.The racks, slated to run on portions of Bayshore from Rome Avenue to Verne Street, are meant to protect the gold mound and dwarf natal plum shrubs the city planted to spruce up Tampa's signature roadway, along with the irrigation systems installed to maintain the landscaping. Both sides of the landscaped medians now will have bike racks during the parade, which is expected to draw more than 200,000 people to Bayshore Boulevard and downtown Tampa. During prior Gasparillas, only one side of those medians had racks to separate crowds from the event. Adding the bike racks will move the annual parade's public viewing area from one side of the landscaped medians to the other — roughly 4 feet farther from floats, city officials said. Stefany believes that once people see the changes, a portion of them will seek another spot along the parade route — with many moving closer toward downtown. He adds, that those who stay in the areas set farther back from the parade will still be able to catch beads. But finding spaces along the route where you can get parade participants to put beads around your neck is going to be at more of a premium, he said.
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