Game turns Tampa into party town

Gasparilla Pirate Fest, Bud Bowl capitalize on reason to celebrate

January 25, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - "Festivus Maximus" will take on a whole new meaning this weekend here as up to three-quarters of a million people cram into downtown for the city's version of Mardi Gras - and thousands of others party until dawn at the Bud Bowl.

The events are part of Tampa's weeklong Super Bowl celebration, which includes about 100 activities, ranging from an interactive NFL theme park to an attempt to set a world record for the largest sand sculpture.

Officials said the wide-ranging events are designed to showcase Tampa as an emerging cosmopolitan city that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in its waterfront and tourism industry since it was last host to the Super Bowl in 1991.

"This city has really come together to become a world-class Super Bowl town," said Karen Rayhill of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development organization.

One of the largest events this weekend will be the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Saturday, which will transform Bayshore Boulevard into a gigantic street party. Up to 750,000 people are expected to watch 100 floats during a four-hour parade that honors Jose Gaspar, a pirate who terrorized the west coast of Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

During the parade, people on floats throw truckloads of bead necklaces at the crowd. Organizers said purple beads would also be thrown this year to honor the Ravens. The parade, which starts after a 160-foot-long pirate ship and a flotilla of boats sail up Hillsboro Bay, has become a festival known for its drunkenness and anything-goes, Mardi Gras-style behavior.

"It's the party to end all parties in Tampa," said Nathan Carey of Charlotte, N.C., who often travels to Tampa to attend the event. "What some women will do to get beads."

At the same time, Anheuser-Busch will also be holding a weekend-long Bud Bowl in Ybor City, a stretch of nightclubs, shops and bars that makes up Tampa's nightlife district.

The historic Ybor City - which was known for its famous hand-rolled cigars in the early part of 20th century - was one of Tampa's major urban renewal projects during the 1990s. City leaders and private industry have spent about $100 million converting the area from a deteriorating Latin quarter into a bustling mini-New Orleans.

The Bud Bowl will be held on Ybor City's main street and will include three days of entertainment, exhibits and games.

The star-studded event includes a daily four-on-four football tournament, an F-16 jet simulator and interactive games, such as the Levi's virtual reality game, in which people can make their own pair of jeans.

Krista Soroka, director of special events for Tampa Bay Super Bowl XXXV Task Force, said she expects at least 100,000 out-of-town visitors in the city this week, including at least 7,000 from Baltimore. The task force has raised $4 million of public and private money to play host to Super Bowl-related events, with millions of more dollars spent by other organizations, such as the NFL, Soroka said.

The NFL is holding the NFL Experience, which it calls pro football's interactive theme park, this weekend on a 20-acre lot at Raymond James Stadium. More than 30 NFL stars will be signing autographs and about 50 exhibits will let participants test their football skills.

The event will also include 50,000 square feet of displays that will be used to sell and trade sports cards and collectibles.

At the Clearwater Super Celebration, at Clearwater Beach, sand sculptors are seeking a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records when they use 3,000 tons of sand to create 31 NFL team helmets, including a 30-foot high Ravens helmet.

For a complete listing of Tampa's Super Bowl-week activities, go to www.superbowlxxxv.org.

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