Tampa’s St. Patrick’s Day parade moves downtown, leaving Ybor

Tampa will once again dye the Hillsborough River emerald green for St. Patrick’s Day, and this year will add the Tampa Rough Riders parade, a tradition that for nearly 30 years has been held in Ybor City as an uproarious night parade.

The River O’ Green Fest will be Saturday, March 16, with seven hours of activities in Curtis Hixon Park leading up to the 5 p.m. parade that is bringing along Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and Tampa native Wade Boggs as grand marshal.

Rick Ceglio, chairperson of the Rough Riders’ St. Patrick’s Day activities, said he has been trying for years to move the parade from Ybor to tie it with the downtown celebration, “to make Tampa a destination event for St. Patrick’s Day.”

Ceglio had Savannah, Georgia, and Chicago in mind as cities renowned for their parades, parties and green rivers that draw tourists just for their St. Patrick’s Day activities.

The River O’ Green Fest will have two stages of live music in the park, traditional Irish dance, a pet costume contest, a Lucky Charms eating contest and “hurling” demonstrations, a fast-paced Irish sport that organizers said involves “a rowdy Irish mix of hockey, baseball, and football.”

The Rough Riders, a nonprofit organization of more than 600 members dedicated to the cavalry of President Theodore Roosevelt, was formed in 1978. It is one of the oldest krewes in the annual Gasparilla parade. They are best known for distributing thousands of teddy bears to hospital patients.

The group has been holding its own St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the Saturday before the holiday since 1995, bringing an Irish stew of marching bands, Gasparilla krewes and green bead-throwing parade floats. Ceglio said the move to downtown brings with it 110 units in this year’s parade.

“We love Ybor and we still do a lot of events there,” Ceglio said. “We just needed our parade to be its own identity. Everyone has been thinking the Rough Riders was the same as the Knight Parade (the Gasparilla season celebration of Tampa’s Latin heritage), and we didn’t want to be considered just a second nighttime parade in Ybor.“

He noted that most St. Patrick’s Day parades are held during the day. This one steps off at 5 p.m., two hours earlier than its Ybor version, which should be easier on families.

Tom DeGeorge, owner of the live music venue Crowbar that has been in Ybor City for 18 years, said losing the parade will likely hurt businesses along Seventh Avenue and is a symbol of the changing face of Ybor City.

Once a haven of nightclubs, cigar bars and tattoo shops, the historic district is undergoing a visible transformation, due in part to plans by developer Darryl Shaw to bring 5,000 residences to the area. DeGeorge and other entertainment business owners have raised concerns that the gentrification will push out the nighttime character Ybor is known for.

“Seeing the parade move downtown is a sign of things to come and should be concerning,” DeGeorge said.

If you go

River O’ Green Fest: The Hillsborough River will be transformed into a bright shade of green for a celebration of Irish heritage with food, beer, games, music and family-friendly activities. Free. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday (March 16). Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa.

Rough Riders St. Patrick’s Day Parade: The parade steps off at 5 p.m. at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square and will head west on Madison Street, turn right on North Ashley Drive and right again on East Polk Street, where it ends at Florida Avenue.