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Get your shamrocks and rainbows ready, but don’t expect to get too lit on River Street while celebrating the much anticipated return of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The notoriously crowded and sometimes rowdy party on the river may be drastically scaled back.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Thursday outlined proposed changes for the post-parade festival. They include no live music on Rousakis Plaza or Morrell Park, no gates or wristband sales, and no beer or food wagons along the public right of ways.
Instead, entertainment, alcohol and food will be the purviewof Savannah's bars and restaurants. And for the first time, the designated "festival zone" will extend south to Victory Drive.
The changes to the festival ordinance will be presented to Savannah City Council for a vote on Feb. 10.
Calling the proposal a "Savannah first" initiative, Johnson credited the recommendations a group of stakeholders that included hospitality industry insiders, the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee leadership, city staff, Savannah’s Waterfront and City Market officials and members of the Savannah Downtown Business Association.
“The consensus among the committee members was that the street activities after the parade have evolved into a spring break-like atmosphere, generating enormous amounts of litter, underage drinking, and other behaviors that run counter to the familiar cultural and religious aspects of the day,” Johnson said.
“We must remember and be reminded that St. Patrick's Day is a religious experience.”
The suspension of on-street permits will give Savannah businesses more opportunities to benefit from food and alcohol sales. Johnson also announced plans to ban out-of-town motorcoaches from entering and parking in the festival zone in hopes of cutting down on negative impacts.
“These party buses are usually filled with already intoxicated individuals who come to Savannah only for the street party. They arrive intoxicated, they do not patronize local businesses, nor do they stay in local hotels,” he said, adding that local buses and other rideshare transportation services will not be impacted.
The changes would only be in place on March 17 and if approved would be the latest evolution of the post-parade activities. Savannah first established a "festival zone" in 1999, with the city issuing permits to on-street vendors and setting up stages for live bands in public greenspaces, such as Morrell Park and Rousakis Plaza.
Some years, the city experimented with gating off parts of the festival zone, such as River Street, and charging for wristbands that allowed wearers to buy and drink alcohol on the street. The government used those funds to offset the sanitation costs associated with cleaning up from the party and for overtime pay for public safety officers working the event.
Savannah hospitality leaders said the changes are a culmination of years of work that predate COVID-19.
“We wanted to see a change in what we were seeing in the nighttime activity and we believe strongly that these recommendations are part of a multi-year, and I want to underscore that, multi-year planning for what and how this community hosts the St. Patrick's Day experience well into the future,” said Michael Owens, president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council.
Owens said while the festivities will be different this year, no one is ending the party. Rather the goal is to make St. Patrick's Day more accessible for those outside of the traditional downtown corridor.
“We want more people to be more positively impacted by St. Patrick's Day in the future. And we think that ending some of the things that we have done traditionally, will make St. Patrick's Day better for more people,” he said.
Expanding the festival zone beyond downtown presents a chance for a more overall diverse experience.
“(It) gives opportunities for minority businesses and Black-owned businesses to take part and have those opportunities that they probably did not have before,” said Greater Savannah Black Chamber of Commerce board member Tomeca McPherson.
As for the parade, the plan is to "move forward," mayor Johnson said. A final decision on the parade will be made on or before Feb. 21.
This year's parade will be about 25% shorter than normal years, said John Fogarty, general chairman of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, which hosts the world-famous parade. He said the committee is excited to once again get the parade on the streets after a two-year hiatus.
“I know the city wants it, our community wants it. We need it to some extent to get back together,” he said.
Katie Nussbaum is the city and county government reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at email@example.com. Twitter: KnussSMN
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 2022 Savannah St. Patrick's Day festival changes outlined by city