Race offers glimpse of Ybor past and future

Published October 31, 2007

They will race through Ybor City, then dine on paella and toast a good cause at Richard's Run for Life 5K postrace party and concert Friday at Centennial Park.

And I'll look on and think that maybe some day the evening concert will be a regular event instead of a rarity at one of the city's nicest outdoor venues.

Back in the early 1990s, organizers put together the Ybor Music Stroll. With the rollicking club scene still in its infancy, various acts came out to Centennial Park and drew nice early evening crowds that were diverse in age and attitude. Acts ranged from jazz groups to folk singers, and vendors provided snacks and refreshments.

Afterward, people fanned out to restaurants like the old Frankie's Patio.

"The music stroll sort of happened at what I consider the peak of what was good about Ybor's revival," said Paul Wilborn, the city's former creative arts manager who played the stroll one night with his Pop Tarts band.

"There were still some artists living there. It brought a nice crowd to Ybor and turned them loose at dinnertime."

Eventually, however, the music stroll walked away as the club scene flourished. Now it's a different time, with club life on the downside.

Centennial Park again may be the answer.

The Ybor City Development Corporation has budgeted money to place a permanent stage with audio wiring capabilities in the park. Starting in the spring, the council will spend more than $500,000 over a two-year period upgrading the park.

"I think it will make it easier and cheaper for people to put on events in the park," said Vince Pardo, manager of the development corporation.

Ybor City Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Keating said he had the idea of reviving Centennial Park as a music venue when he took over 21/2 years ago.

"I would like to get back to that," Keating said. "When I started, I wrote a proposal that we would do a small concert series. I would love to see someone like (smooth jazz artists) B.K. Jackson or Les Sabler play there.

"But when you have to pay for a stage to be brought in and the audio and sound system, it makes it pretty tough."

For now, the park will play host to several annual events, including the Cigar Heritage Festival on Nov. 17 and Fiesta Day's FlanFest in February. It also will be the focus in the spring for Festa Italiana.

On a weekly basis, the park is the site of the Saturday Ybor Fresh Market, which Pardo said is drawing more people than ever, thanks to increased marketing.

But you don't have to wait that long to get the flavor of the park. Go Friday to Richard's Run for Life. The 5K race begins and ends at Centennial Park and is open to runners and walkers. The proceeds benefit Pediatric Sarcoma Cancer Research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute.

For entry fee information, go to www.richardsrunforlife.com. Or for a $20 donation ($10 for children under 12), you can attend the postrace party and load up on the Columbia's famous paella, black beans and rice and beer.

Some people might feel guilty about eating a lot if they didn't actually run. Fortunately, I'm not one of those people.

Most notably, the event will be a throwback to good times, and perhaps a sign of things to come.

That's all I'm saying.