TAMPA — They may be the new kids in town when it comes to Gasparilla, but National Hockey League officials figured out the best advice for anyone coming to the all-star weekend events they have planned just around the corner from the pirate parade.
Get downtown Saturday by 11 a.m.
Veterans of the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, with attendance now at 300,000-plus people, have long known that the only way to avoid the hassle of navigating such a crowd is to arrive early for the start of the 2 p.m. parade.
This year, navigation poses a special challenge with the simultaneous scheduling of events Saturday leading up to the annual NHL All-Star Game at Amalie Arena on Sunday. Throw in live entertainment surrounding both events, plus a couple of shows at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts downtown, and you have people thinking back to Saturday, April 30, 2016 — a day dubbed "carmageddon."
That’s when downtown gridlock resulted from the annual RiverFest, a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game, a cheerleader competition at the Tampa Convention Center, and five shows at the Straz all on the same day.
But Tampa has learned from that experience, says city spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.
It proved to be a "perfect storm for testing our capacity for downtown events," Bauman said, and since then, Tampa has "activated additional resources for better ingress and egress downtown."
Here are some measures instituted to help ensure smooth sailing during the Saturday entertainment extravaganza:
• The city will "optimize" traffic-signal timing patterns on Saturday to keep traffic flowing.
• Digital signs including those over Interstates 275 and 4 will suggest motorists attending one of the events park outside downtown, preferably at an Ybor City garage.
• The TECO Line Streetcar will run from Ybor City to downtown starting at 8 a.m. — three hours earlier than usual. It won’t be free, though, like other Saturdays now because Gasparilla is its highest-grossing day at around $37,000. An all-day pass is $5.
• Some city garages open as early as 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. and a total of 30,000 parking spaces in garages and lots are available in the downtown area for those who arrive early enough.
• The In-Towner trolley will run continuous loops throughout downtown every 30 minutes from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with stops including the Marion Transit Center and a spot near the parade route at the corner of Tampa and Jackson streets. It’s free.
• The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority will provide continuous bus service from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Ybor City and the Channel district garages to Dick Greco Plaza near the Convention Center and parade route. An all-day pass is $4.
• The first 1,000 Gasparilla-goers older than 21 who enter promo code "LikeACaptain" get a $20 discount from the ride-share app Lyft. Cpatain Morgan Rum is the sponsor. Rides are available from within five miles of "Tampa proper."
• Competitor Uber, the official ride sharing company of NHL All-Star Weekend, has designated Channelside Drive between Florida Avenue and Morgan Street as its official pickup and drop off zone.
Revelers can also receive mobile phone traffic notices by texting Gasparilla to 888777.
Still, it’s a little scary to think that Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan predicts as many as half a million people could partake in festivities Saturday — 200,000 more than last year’s estimated Gasparilla parade crowd.
The Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which helped land the annual NHL All-Star Game, points to calendars past when Amalie Arena hosted sold out events on Gasparilla parade day, including two Ringling Bros. Circus shows last year. Traffic was no worse than a normal Gasparilla Saturday, said the commission’s executive director Rob Higgins.
Plus, Higgins estimates that a third of NHL ticket holders are out of towners who will be walking from a nearby hotel, meaning less cars on the road than last year.
Still, with a Fan Festival outside the Amalie throughout the day, the parade ending at 5:30 p.m. and a NHL Skills Competition beginning at 7 p.m., the NHL expects enough of a jam that its website advises guests to be downtown by 11 a.m.
The Straz Center, which had to hold the curtain 40 minutes on that carmageddon day, has adjusted its Saturday schedule.
Times were pushed back an hour, to 8 p.m. for The Tempest in the 125-seat Shimberg Playhouse and to 8:30 p.m. for comedian Miranda Sings in the 910-seat Ferguson Hall.
The Straz also chose not to book more shows Saturday.
"By design," said Straz Center spokesman Paul Bilyeu, "we won’t have an extraordinarily large number of patrons at the Straz."
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had incorrect times for Saturday shows at the Straz center.
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.