Posted by: Tampa Bay Chamber on Friday, February 5, 2021

If you live in Tampa you have likely heard the name of Jose Gaspar. Each winter the “Gasparilla Season” kicks off. There’s the children’s parade, Invasion, Knight parade, a music festival, a movie festival, and a distance classic for runners and walkers, all bearing his likeness and some derivation of the name, “Gasparilla.”

For the first time in 19 years the Gasparilla Invasion has been postponed until April 2021, as a result of COVID. What does this mean for our community, and why do we continue to celebrate Gasparilla, (besides the obvious fun component)? According to Don Barnes, the Executive Officer of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (the first Krewe to observe Gasparilla), there are substantial economic impacts and reasons to host these events.

“The Gasparilla Invasion, Children’s Parade and Parade of Pirates generate upward of $40 million in revenue for local hotels, restaurants, bars, other service-related industries.These Gasparilla events are viewed by over a half million spectators each year, with over 50% visiting from out of the local area. Those out of town visitors get to see Tampa and the rich/diverse culture we have to offer.

Gasparilla also demonstrates the City of Tampa’s ability to efficiently, safely and professionally host major events on an annual basis. Every year, Police Chiefs and Event Organizers attend Gasparilla to watch how Tampa pulls off these events without significant incident. They walk away knowing Tampa can host world-class events and add our City to their list of major event options. That’s why Tampa has been host to: Four (soon to be five) Super Bowls; the NCAA College Football National Championship, Basketball Final Fours, Hockey Frozen Fours, NHL All Star Games, The Indian International Film Academy Awards (Bollywood), Republican National Convention.

Gasparilla provides Tampa with a “Signature Event”. New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Nashville has Country, New York has New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Orlando has Disney World. Tampa has “Gasparilla”, the world’s largest pirate invasion and street celebration.” 

Delays are not unprecedented, there is a history of delays and postponements to the Gasparilla season. Don Barnes shared a history of Gasparilla as it relates to the causes and results of suspending the celebrations.

Gasparilla was first celebrated back in 1904 and continued until 1906 without delays. The 1st postponement occurred from 1907 – 1909, when no spring Festivals were held in Tampa[KG3] during this period of time. Gasparilla was postponed again from 1918 - 1919 in observance of World War I[KG4] (and the correspondence of the Spanish Flu Outbreak), and again from 1942 – 1946 in observance of World War II. Since then, the dates have moved to incorporate large events coming to Tampa. Most notable was Superbowl XXXV, when both events occurred on the same weekend. Superbowl XXV caused the most well known postponement, when the National Football League and the City of Tampa put pressure to admit non-white members to Krewes (for more information check out "Pirates back for Gasparilla invasion" - The Lakeland Ledger, Feb. 1, 1992. Since 1992 Gasparilla has been held every year since.

What impact could this year’s postponement have on the community both economically and socially? We asked a few members of the LTA Cabinet who are all members of Ye Mystic Krewe.

John De La Vergne LTA Sponsorship Chair “Yes and no. I believe the participation may be up slightly from a normal year given it will be spring time and the weather should hopefully be better. I also think it will be up depending on where we are with the COVID virus as people will have a lot of pent up energy to get out and participate. I also think it might have been down a little this year simply due to the Super Bowl being in town as well.”

LTA Chair Luis Martinez-Monfort “I think delaying Gasparilla was a good decision. I believe, if conditions improve as we all hope, a delayed Gasparilla in April will see an increase in participation because people will be more than ready to go out in public and safely celebrate together.”

Don Barnes “We believe postponing Gasparilla to April 2021 will have a positive impact on event attendance. Currently, COVID numbers are high and vaccine distribution is still in the infant stages. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the City of Tampa would NOT want to risk hosting any event with the potential to become a super-spreader.  Our sole focus is to promote free, fun, professional Gasparilla events that are safe and meet (or exceed) all current/potential safety and health standards. Moving the start of Gasparilla season to April allows the vaccine distribution to continue/improve, and we expect to see a drop in new COVID cases. We will use the 80 – 90 day pause to continue to assess the current situation, along with our partners at the City, Tampa General Hospital Infectious Disease experts, and University of South Florida Health Officials.”

The jury is still out as to what impact, if any, the postponement will have, and Tampa is taking the prudent action in the delay. It’s the hope of everyone: the Krewes, City of Tampa Officials, and the attendees by delaying Gasparilla until April 2021 delay will provide a safer and even more popular Invasion and we will see everyone Arrrrrrrghound April!

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