Those were two of the major changes Savannah City Council members discussed at a special Monday meeting.
Like the 2012 holiday, the St. Patrick’s Day parade for 2013 will be on a Saturday, which is expected to bring far larger crowds and more headaches for the city and the independent St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, which is responsible for organizing the parade.
Last year’s parade had more than 360 units, according to a city report, and lasted more than five hours. The parade committee’s general chairman for 2012, Michael A. Foran, estimated about 15,000 people marched in the parade.
The committee estimated that more than 1 million parade-goers filled Savannah streets. The city doesn’t estimate attendance.
The committee was hoping to set a record for the world’s largest parade, based on number of units.
The drawback was parade viewers were stuck for hours in parking garages or on streets as the parade went on for hours. Many were still there when the second wave of party-going festival crowds descended downtown.
“That hampered us tremendously, trying to get one group in and one group out and making sure everyone is safe” said Marty Johnston, the city’s director of special projects.
She also detailed problems with parking, port-a-potties that filled before the parade even started and off-duty, extra police from other cities who abandoned their posts because they were only authorized to work eight hours.
That prompted Alderman Tom Bordeaux to question whether the parade has become too big and is at risk of turning away people. Alderwoman Estella Shabazz wondered whether the city should set specific hours or a limit on parade entries under the ordinance, but Johnston and Alderman Tony Thomas urged talks with the parade committee first.
“I would rather negotiate than legislate,” Thomas said. “You do not want to stir up that many Irishmen on who can be in the parade.”
Return of wristbands
For the 2013 parade, city staff and the Savannah Waterfront Association are proposing a return of wristbands.
The bands would sell for $5 and would allow the wearer to drink on the street in an expanded entertainment zone. It would extend from River Street to Bay Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Broad Street; south of Bay, it would run from MLK to Drayton and extend to Broughton Street.
That would include Ellis Square, City Market and a growing number of venues on Broughton, said Mark Dana, vice president of the board for the waterfront association.
Wristbands would help police better monitor underage drinking and, for the association, would be a revenue generator that could help fund other shows throughout the year.
It also will help provide more outdoor entertainment for the festival. Stages would be spread into City Market, Broughton and other business areas, which would spread out crowds and alleviate some of the overflow problems on River Street, Dana said.
Estimates from last year put crowds at 100,000 a night in the wider festival zone.
Dana and Bill Dickinson, owner of Wet Willie’s, quelled council concerns about how wristbands would work by saying enforcement would begin at 5 p.m., which would allow parade-goers to bring coolers during the day. Johnston said a diner would not be required to buy a wristband to have one drink with a meal. However, the diner would not be allowed on the street with a drink unless a wristband was purchased.
Out, Spot, out!
City staff also is recommending that dogs not be allowed in the festival zone after 5 p.m. Exceptions would be granted for residents who live in the area and need to walk their dogs. The influx of other dogs in squares and River Street is creating too many problems, Johnston said.
“They are destroying the squares with dog feces,” she said. “On River Street, it is everywhere.”
As River Street gets more crowded at night, dogs have fought and some have bitten people who stepped on them, she said.
Council will approve changes to the parade when it votes on the festival ordinance at a later meeting.