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Parade presents biggest problem

By Times staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


Surveying the city from the roof of the Tampa Marriott Waterside on Saturday night, the NFL's traffic consultant saw his worst fears materialize.

"I've never seen gridlock like that," said Chris Hagerty of Ridgeway International, who has worked on the last eight Super Bowls, "Except for Bangkok, Thailand."

The day after Super Bowl Sunday, local officials acknowledged that the weekend's biggest problem occurred Saturday night after the Gasparilla parade ended and the night's many events were getting under way. Parade spectators numbered approximately 750,000, vastly outstripping estimates. Great waves of pedestrians dispersing afterward collided with incoming traffic for downtown Super Bowl-related parties, turning streets into parking lots.

"We took a calculated risk having Gasparilla the day before Super Bowl," said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. "I think it showed off the city so much, it was worth it."

But Greco also said he would consider moving the parade to a different weekend were Tampa to host another Super Bowl.

Elton Smith, the city's transportation manager, said that to keep traffic moving, officials changed lane directions, dropped cones and put up signs. But there was only so much extra capacity officials could create, given the crush of cars and pedestrians in a concentrated area, he said.

"An event like this, I don't think it could be staged without significant congestion," said Smith. "It is simply the largest thing we've ever done."

SING, THEN RUN: It seemed like a scene out of the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night: The Backstreet Boys and their security types came tearing down the hallway to Raymond James Stadium's luxury suites as the Super Bowl started Sunday night.

The Boys weren't being chased by fans, though. They were eager to start watching the game from their corner suite after performing the national anthem.

"We were real pleased with how the anthem went, considering we just got in at 3 a.m. today from Atlanta and didn't get a lot of practice in," said Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough. "It was an honor to do it."

Band mate Brian Littrell said he's often nervous singing The Star-Spangled Banner: "Usually I've even kept my eyes closed," he said with a laugh. "But this time I decided, "What's the use in being stressed out?' "

BIG CHIEFS' TENTS: Pleased with the glimpse the world got of Gasparilla, event organizers will begin assessing this year's event and fine-tuning for next year. One complaint: extra corporate hospitality tents along the parade route meant less space in some spots for the masses to watch the parade. Darrell Stefany of EventMakers, who noted the parade route had been extended this year, said there was room for everyone to watch but acknowledged some folks might have found themselves crowded out of favorite spots.

SO-SO SATURDAY: Did Tampa measure up for Super Bowl?

Yes, if you listened to local officials congratulating each other at a news conference Monday.

No, if you listen to a party planner from Atlanta.

Pablo Henderson held a shindig Saturday night at the restaurant Bacchus on S Howard Avenue, billed as the SKIN party with the motto, "Wear what you dare."

Henderson, who owns the Atlanta club Karma, figured things would be jumping by 10 p.m., but it was well after 11 p.m. before anyone started to arrive, thanks to traffic jams. And plenty of people who did show up weren't in good form, Henderson said.

"A lot of people got drunk early on at the parade, and it was such a long day, it just lost momentum," Henderson said.

But the real problem, he said, lay lies with Tampa residents.

"I was a little bit disappointed in the quality of the crowd," Henderson said Monday by phone from Atlanta. "Atlanta is a lot more of a big city. There's a corporate identity to the city, a glitzy kind of appeal, a certain Grammy winner kind of crowd. In Tampa, I felt like it was kind of rednecky and not up to the caliber of a big city. People were complaining about a $30 cover. In Atlanta, it would be $100."

Henderson said he accepts some of the blame for a so-so Saturday night. "I probably didn't do enough research into the kind of income people have there and the kind of money people spend."

- Kathryn Wexler, Kyle Parks and Sue Carlton contributed to this report.

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