TAMPA, FL – In preparation for Tampa’s annual pirate invasion Saturday, Jan. 27, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gathered his top law enforcement advisers Monday, Jan. 22, at Tampa Police Department Headquarters to discuss strategies to outwit the band of buccaneers and keep the city of Tampa safe.
While the perennial battle between the city and the Gasparilla pirates is all in fun, Buckhorn said the safety of residents and visitors to the annual Gasparilla Festival is no joke.
Along with Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, representatives from Tampa Fire Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Hillsborough County Schools, Pepin Distributing and Gasparilla organizer Ye Mystic Krewe, Buckhorn held a press conference Monday to discuss parking rules, traffic issues, water safety and a zero tolerance drinking policy for teen revelers.
Celebrated since 1904, the festival is a tribute to the fictional pirate, Jose Gaspar, who was rumored to sail Tampa Bay in the 1700s, plundering towns along the way. Over the years, Gasparilla has developed into the third largest parade and festival in the country, attracting tourists from around the world and filtering an estimated $23 million into Tampa’s economy.
That Gasparilla pirate invasion scenario continues to be played out every year when members of tYe Mystic Krewe, organizers of the festival, invade Tampa in their replica Jose Gasparilla pirate ship and demand the mayor hand over the keys to the city.
The pirates threw down the gauntlet last week when Ye Mystic Krewe Capt. Christopher Lykes sent Buckhorn an ultimatum for Buckhorn to meet him at high noon Tuesday, Jan. 23, in downtown Tampa to negotiate a peaceful surrender of the city and avoid a battle.
Capt. Lykes and his crew, accompanied by cannon fire, will launch a raiding party in downtown Tampa Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. to lay out Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s conditions for surrendering the city.
Like his predecessors, however, Buckhorn has yet to surrender the city without a fight in his seven years as mayor. And this year is no exception.
His refusal to surrender will inevitably lead to the annual Gasparilla Invasion of the pirates Saturday, Jan. 27.
This year’s invasion will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday with the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship docking at the Tampa Convention Center. The annual Invasion Brunch will take place starting at 1 p.m. At the brunch, Buckhorn will finally surrender the keys to the city to the Capt. Lykes.
Buckhorn, however, said the act of handing over the keys to the buccaneers is more a victory than a defeat for Tampa due to the boon to the city’s economy during the annual festival and its accompanying events including the Gasparilla music festival, road race, art festival and children’s parade.
This year, Buckhorn is hoping for an even bigger bounty due to the festivities surrounding Tampa hosting the NHL All-Star game and fan festival Jan. 26-28 in conjunction with Gasparilla weekend.
"I rarely say anything nice about these pirates, but Gasparilla is one of the things that truly set us apart from the nation," Buckhorn said. "This year, we will be combining the festivities with NHL All-Star Weekend to elevate Tampa on the national stage once again."
In that light, Buckhorn said he’s pulling out all stops to make sure festival-goers have a safe weekend.
"Our goal is to make Gasparilla safe and fun with no arrests," he said. "We want people to leave with beads around their neck – not with handcuffs around their wrists."
With that in mind, Tampa Police will receive assistance from 22 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies this weekend.
Photo via City of Tampa