SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The St. Patrick’s Day parade is a decades-old tradition in Savannah. It has become a huge part of the city, and in turn, a vital piece in the tourism industry for the Hostess City.
However, what does it cost the city to make it safe and clean up after it? In 2018, the city spent over $500,000 dollars on those two things.
It’s important to note, the city does nothing for the actual parade. That is handled by the parade committee.
It is first and foremost a religious holiday for Catholics. The parade is a chance for the Irish to honor their past and celebrate the present. The mayor said the city’s participation in the parade is how they honor the Irish heritage in Savannah.
"It’s the appreciation Savannah shows towards our community, just like we do in all the events we do here in the community towards family and tradition,” said Savannah Mayor, Eddie Deloach.
The celebrations do extend past the parade though, often into a two or three-day festival. It provides a huge boost to tourism. A Georgia Southern study estimates some half a million people visit River Street on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
It doesn’t come without a cost though. According to the city, the police department spent $480,179 on law enforcement in 2018. That includes equipment, personnel, lodging for out-of-town agencies, food, and overtime. The city sanitation department spent about $76,008 on personnel, supplies, and equipment rental.
Wristband sales are the city’s main revenue stream. They got $220,787 from that in 2018, according to data released by the city. When looking at these factors, that’s a loss of just over $334,000.
Last year, Vice President Mike Pence came to town for the parade. The cost for policing did increase about $100,000 in 2018 compared to 2017. It’s not clear how much of that is directly related to the Vice President’s visit.
"It’s been embraced by the community. It means more than dollars and cents. It has become part of Savannah,” said Alderwoman and Mayor Pro Tem, Carol Bell.
It’s tough to quantify the impact the parade has on tourism and boosting the profile of the city. Visit Savannah’s President, Joe Marinelli, said St. Patrick’s Day serves as the anchor in the spring calendar, but its impact on tourism is felt year-round.
“It’s not just dollars and cents, but really introducing Savannah as a world-class visitor destination at the most beautiful time of the year, gives people stories to go back and tell their friends and family about how great Savannah is,” Marinelli said. “That’s what really carries throughout the rest of the year and people wanting to come back and learn more about the city, its heritage, and tracing it back to Ireland, which is fun to talk about.”
City leaders feel the same way - that it gives people an experience in Savannah that they can share with others. That turns out to be invaluable exposure for the city.
The Georgia Southern study showed mixed reviews from businesses. Most say they spent more to make more. Overall, it concluded the city benefits greatly from the event - a sentiment with which almost all agree.