Bayfront Park in Anna Maria is empty of vehicles now that the winter-spring tourism season has ended, but Island law enforcement officials expect it to fill up quickly this Saturday for Cinco de Mayo. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Just when Island residents thought the winter-spring tourist season was over and Island traffic would return to some sense of normalcy, Cinco de Mayo — May 5 — is expected to bring about 25,000 people to Anna Maria Island to celebrate Mexican Independence Day.
Law enforcement officials in all three Island cities said they would be ready for Saturday with crowd and traffic control measures, particularly at Coquina Beach and Bayfront Park in Anna Maria.
While Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Turner of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation said he hopes everyone has a good time and behaves, he’s taking no chances.
All deputies will be on duty, along with at least one deputy on beach patrol, extra vehicles will be used, a tactical squad will be available and the gang identification unit also will patrol Island streets and beaches, Turner said.
If necessary, MCSO deputies will have a horse-mounted patrol.
“The three key areas for us are Bayfront Park, Gulf Park and Bean Point,” Turner said.
He also noted Cinco de Mayo visitors like to get to Bayfront Park early to get a good parking location.
“They’ll start arriving at 6 a.m. and the park is usually full by 9 a.m.,” Turner said.
Vehicles are often double- and triple-parked at the park and many people park illegally on side streets.
Turner advised motorists that vehicles could be towed that day if illegally parked. Additionally, deputies will be writing citations, primarily for open consumption of alcohol.
He said there are three things the public should know if coming to the Island for Cinco de Mayo:
“No dogs are allowed on the beach, no public consumption of alcohol is allowed and open fires are not permitted,” he said.
Turner said the same rules apply in all three Island cities and at Coquina Beach, where most people will gather that day.
Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby echoed Turner’s comments about having a good time, but warned against violating city and county ordinances.
Cosby emphasized that no dogs or pets are allowed at Coquina Beach, no open fires or fireworks are permitted and public consumption of alcohol is not allowed. Officers will be paying particular attention for those violations, he said.
Cinco de Mayo brings about 25,000 people to the Island and many come as early as 6-7 a.m., Cosby said.
Traffic to the Island will be heaviest 9-11 a.m., and reverse itself around 2-4 p.m., he added.
That means traffic slowdowns and backups will be the norm morning and afternoon.
Cosby said all regular and reserve officers will be on duty that day.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine said he also would have extra officers on duty May 5, although most of the celebrants typically go to Coquina Beach or Bayfront Park because of the public pavilions and grills.
While police are not anticipating difficulties other than heavier-than-usual traffic, they’re taking no chances with so many people expected for the day.
In April 2007, there was a shooting on Coquina Beach between members of two rival gangs that resulted in several injuries.
Since then, the county and MCSO have redirected vehicles through the Coquina Beach parking lot to minimize cruising, beefed up its patrols everywhere on the Island on Cinco de Mayo, and had its gang identification teams and tactical units more visible that day.
Cosby said the past few Cinco de Mayo holidays have been largely uneventful except for people arrested for consumption of alcohol. But, he noted, Cinco de Mayo has not been on a weekend for several years as it will be this year.
Turner’s advice to Islanders is to avoid the rush hours of traffic expected coming on the Island in the morning and leaving the Island in the afternoon.