Planners want modest MLK parade to grow
By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- The Gasparilla parade has 118 scrumptious floats. The St. Patrick's parade through Ybor City draws tens of thousands of spectators.
But the Dr. Martin Luther King parade in west Tampa has little of that pomp.
In its fifth year, the King parade has a lineup even organizers consider thin. In fact, the parade committee is once again busing in bands from other cities, including one from Albany State University in Georgia, to puff up the ranks.
"They come at our invitation," said Clarence Fort, a Hillsborough County reserve deputy in charge of the parade. "It helps to solidify our parade."
Unlike Plant City, which gives $2,000 to parade organizers, the city of Tampa donates no hard cash to its King parade or any other procession. And while the parade has grown each year, publicity is still meager and corporate dollars few.
Organizers say they fault themselves.
"I think Plant City, they probably do a better job," Fort said. "I don't think it's a question of the city itself. It's probably the (parade) organization. I'm not saying I'm falling short. Just the effort they put in it."
"I don't think we have the resources to reach out," said Ann Porter, a founder of the scholarship committee that gave rise to the parade.
But they point out that the Tampa parade, developed as an afterthought, to cap a scholarship ceremony, is very young.
Tampa's first bona fide King parade was in 1998. It had 40 participating groups, and the grand marshal was Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson. Monday, 100 groups, mostly church and school drill teams, will march from Blake High School on N Boulevard through the residential neighborhood and on to Pepin-Rood Stadium.
Tampa and Hillsborough County will pitch in with officers or cleanup crews, as they do for many parades. About 10,000 spectators lined the streets last year.
Fort, a retired Hillsborough County deputy who chairs the parade committee, said he hasn't aggressively pursued public or private support.
"We started out just as a way to honor high school graduates. We've only been in the parade business five years. That's not long. But we need some corporate sponsors."
Tampa council member Bob Buckhorn said he sees room for growth. One improvement, he said, may be to move the parade to an area where more people could participate.
"I would like to see Tampa's Martin Luther King parade become as successful as St. Petersburg's, with as many people participating and as many spectators."
Organizers and boosters say it's just a matter of time.
"Our vision is that it will grow, it will expand," Ann Porter said.
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