Savannah weighs changes to St. Patrick’s Day festivities

Officials in Savannah are considering some big changes to the city’s sprawling St. Patrick’s Day celebration, hoping to curb public drunkenness and littering while boosting business at local bars and restaurants.

Mayor Van Johnson said organizers are moving forward with plans to bring back the South’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade this March 17 after City Hall forced them to pull the plug each of the past two years amid fears of spreading the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, an advisory committee has recommended changes to how the city regulates the sprawling, boozy street party surrounding the parade. Proposals include ending a multi-day St. Patrick’s festival with outdoor concerts on Savannah’s riverfront. Outdoor beer and food vendors would no longer be allowed. And party buses from out of town would be denied permits for parking.

“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 told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

St. Patrick’s Day is typically the most lucrative time of year in Savannah, where descendants of Irish immigrants have celebrated with a parade since 1824. It has since ballooned into one of the South’s biggest street parties after Mardi Gras.

The mayor said proposed changes to the festivities are intended to help local bars and restaurants reap a greater share of the profits from the Irish holiday, even in parts of the city that aren’t near the downtown parade route and nightlife districts.

Savannah’s City Council is scheduled to take up the changes Feb. 10.

Johnson has promised a decision on whether to grant a permit for this year’s parade by Feb. 21. The city withheld a permit because of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

“I know the city wants it, our community wants it,” Johnson said. “We need it to some extent to get back together.”

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