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St. Pete reacts to an eventful holiday weekend

Mark Parker

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Mayor Ken Welch, city council members and officials with the Parks Department at Saturday night's tree lighting ceremony. Photo: Facebook.

City leaders, residents and visitors enjoyed several events encompassing the World Cup and holiday season in St. Petersburg over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Mayor Ken Welch and city council members participated in the annual Santa Parade and Tree Lighting ceremony along St. Pete’s downtown waterfront Saturday night. Presented by the Parks and Recreation Department, the parade began at Albert Whitted Park and ran along Bayshore Drive to 5th Avenue NE.

“Unforgettable memories and incredible fun last night at our annual Santa Parade and Tree Lighting,” said Welch in a social media post Sunday. “And it’s just the beginning.”

The mayor added that the city would offer more events, with holiday movies and “real snow,” throughout December.

Councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders called the evening a wonderful experience and thanked Mike Jefferis, leisure services administrator, and his department for a job well done. She also noted the abundance of people in attendance.

Councilmember Gina Driscoll noted that “expert bead throwers” from local high schools joined her on the parade route and that she took a moment to relay her good behavior to “the Big Guy.”

Earlier that day, Welch encouraged residents to support local entrepreneurs for Small Business Saturday. He also offered information on Shopapalooza, which returned to Vinoy Park for its 12th year.

The festival showcased over 350 area small businesses and creators and more than 40 food and beverage vendors Saturday and Sunday. Ester Venouziou, event organizer, explained in a previous interview that the event is a way for people to ensure their money stays in the community through the holidays.

Barry Rubin, president of the Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce, noted that thousands of attendees learned more about his organization. He also thanked Rep. Lindsay Cross and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Backer for attending and saying hello.

Welch and council members kicked off the holiday events Friday evening with the opening of Enchant inside Tropicana Field. Formerly known as Enchant Christmas, the Hallmark Channel-sponsored event features four million lights shaped into forests, homes, mazes and massive gift boxes.

There is also a “snowy” ice skating rink, and the mayor lit the event’s centerpiece – a 100-foot Christmas tree. Enchant will occupy the dome until New Year’s Day.

“Magic, mystery and millions of lights,” said Welch in a social media post. “An incredible experience navigating the world’s largest Christmas light maze and village.”

While not holiday-based, local soccer fans were able to root for Team USA in the FIFA World Cup for the first time in eight years. Billed as the largest watch party in Tampa Bay, attendees descended upon St. Petersburg’s Williams Park to watch the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) play the favored England squad to a tie Friday afternoon.

The watch party will continue as the USMNT faces a must-win match against Iran Tuesday afternoon. “Things are going to be a bit feisty,” said event organizer Pete Boland in a social media post. Iranian officials called for FIFA to remove the U.S. team from the World Cup after it temporarily changed its opponents’ flag in a show of support for human rights protestors.

“St. Pete is a soccer town!” proclaimed Boland after Friday’s match. “Still need to win so we can do this again this coming weekend.”

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