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    Gasparilla seat shift doesn't sit well with some

    At least one long-time parade attendee thinks organizers are missing the mark by relocating spectators.

    By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 9, 2003


    TAMPA -- As in years past, Donald Fox diligently sent in the forms to purchase bleacher seats to watch the Gasparilla parade.

    He thought he had once again secured seats in his ideal location -- right across the river from the convention center, near the Publix supermarket.

    But this year, the Clearwater orthodontist and the patients he takes along won't be sitting in those bleachers.

    No one will.

    Parade organizers have decided to remove the bleachers from the residential side of the street. Instead, they will add bleachers to the water side of the street from the Plant Avenue overpass to Davis Islands, which is where Fox ended up this year.

    Like others, Fox isn't happy about the move. But event organizers said the changes would help with setting up and cleaning up, and would accommodate people who don't want to pay to see the parade, scheduled for Feb. 1.

    "We believe on the whole the moves will make the event run better," said Darrell Stefany, president of EventMakers, the event's organizer.

    EventMakers also will install new bleachers closer to the start of the parade. A total of about 14,000 bleacher seats at $19 each were available, slightly more than last year.

    The bleachers in the marina area are sold out, but Stefany said another few hundred seats might be put up if the demand is high over the next few weeks.

    Fox, as a long-time bleacher spectator on the residential side, was moved about 200 yards south and to the other side of the street, Stefany said.

    About 1,200 of the seats near the Platt Street bridge near the Publix will go to people who attend a brunch at the convention center, he said. The other seats across from where the bleachers were removed already were taken by regular buyers, he said.

    "We did what we could to accommodate the people on the other side of the street," he said.

    The move will eliminate the last-minute set up of bleachers on the residential side, Stefany said. Since they are on the road, they cannot be erected until Bayshore Boulevard is closed. The bleachers on the marina side are on the grass and can be set up in advance.

    The move also will help with clean up because there will be no bleachers on the road to remove, he said.

    The parade's starting point has been extended about a half-mile -- from Howard Avenue to Bay-to-Bay Boulevard -- lengthening the area where people who don't want to pay for a seat can watch the parade, Stefany said.

    "Moving the bleachers frees up even more space for those people," he said.

    Fox said that when he called to ask what happened, he was told corporations had bought up many of the tickets across from where he used to sit. That made him wonder if the event had become the domain of "big corporate America" to the detriment of the little guys who have attended the event for years.

    "It just doesn't feel right," said Fox, who said he is losing interest in attending. "It's getting worse each year. Now I hear next year they won't let regular people wear pirate costumes. Where will it end?"

    Stefany said no corporations bought up "hundreds of seats." He said the move was forced by the removal of the bleachers on the residential side of the street.

    Thirty-four corporate tents, about the same number as last year, will line the route between Rome and Magnolia.

    "There should be plenty of space for all types of spectators," Stefany said.

    -- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com .

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