Friends of the Riverwalk announced Tuesday that the 2021 Tampa Riverfest festival is canceled and will return in 2022. But the city just hosted free Super Bowl events with COVID-19 safety precautions, requiring tickets and limited capacity. Local organizers shared why they could not follow the same model.
"Absolutely, we considered other courses of action, including holding an event that required limited attendance, social distancing, other important safety protocols and even breaking with our tradition of hosting free events," said MaryBeth Williams, executive director of Friends of the Riverwalk. "But in the end, we felt that doing a scaled-back event would not honor the spirit and fun that RiverFest is known for and could ultimately disappoint people."
With Gasparilla, event organizers said the footprint differences matter. The Super Bowl events were fully gated and in a smaller space.
"While both are large-scale events, their execution is very different. Gasparilla is a free, community celebration with an event site that spans more than four miles and welcomes hundreds of thousands of people. That celebration also extends beyond our event footprint," said Maiken Stefany, vice president of Eventfest, the company that manages Gasparilla Pirate Fest and Children’s Gasparilla on behalf of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
Gasparilla organizers said they even considered a fully ticketed event with fencing and seating, but they felt the potential community impact outweighed what they could control.
"We also consulted with health experts on everything from how to hand out beads to how many guests could occupy a given space," said Stefany. "Every alternative was considered, but we determined that it was not feasible to host this year’s events safely while staying true to the Tampa tradition that our city has come to know and love."
Gasparilla organizers said the cost of the event was also considered, but that wasn’t a deciding factor to cancel.
Both Gasparilla and Riverfest organizers said the health and safety of everyone comes first, so the focus is on providing the best experience for the events next year.