Wristbands, dog ban, porta potties top St. Patrick's Day changes - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Wristbands, dog bans and porta potties top list of St. Patrick's Day changes

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St. Patrick's Day may be 110 days away but plans are being finalized for both the parade and festival in Savannah which can only be described as a "phenomenon."

1,000,000 plus people last year made their way to Savannah, based on estimates by city officials. The parade, like last year, falls on a Saturday, which means visitors will begin to arrive as early as Wednesday for the event.

Those crowds are expected to be about the same size, if not bigger. This year, what's old is new again. A few years ago the city did away with wristband sales.

This year, it looks like the wristbands are coming back, not just for River Street, but for the entire entertainment zone. The goal is to crack down on under-age drinking and the bracelets, according to organizers, would make it easier to spot legal drinkers and illegal drinkers.

"This is only for the purpose of controlling the consumption of alcohol out in public," Mark Dana, Riverfront Savannah, told WTOC.

The proposed festival days are same as last year, Friday before the parade and Saturday, the day of the parade. The expanded entertainment zone now covers all of River St., Bay St. from MLK Blvd. to East Broad St., Ellis Square, City Market, Bryan St., Congress St., Julian St. and Broughton St. from MLK to Drayton.

Inside this zone is where you would need to buy a $5 bracelet before you could drink in public. The event organizers do not want to burden police with doing strict enforcement. They would rather just have officers point visitors to where the bracelets should be purchased.

Businesses would not be forced to make their customers buy a bracelet. Instead, the Riverfront Savannah and participating organization will have bar card certified people selling the bracelets at booths all over the festival zone. Hotels will offer them for purchase along with a St. Patrick's Day guide including rules and regulations.

Dana says he knows not everyone will like the return of the wristband, but if you do the math,  he thinks the revenue and safety aspects will be worth it.

"We hope the big picture is seen and the revenues generated from this effort will allow us to have future festivals and then benefit from those festivals," Dana said.

City council seemed on board with the wristbands coming back in a more simple approach. $5 a wristband times the 100,000 people or more who were on River Street last year and other areas, if they were drinking in public, is hard to ignore for some who see those dollar signs.

If you plan on bringing your dog to the expanded festival zone, you may want to think again.

No dogs in the festival zone's peak times has been proposed. City staff said waste, dogs spooked by the crowds, getting stepped on or fighting with other dogs became a safety danger so they have asked for a time designated dog ban during the festival this year.

"When people congregate in one area and we have a bunch of dogs in one area, that's an issue because we have nasty ground and for that reason we are saying it is a health code issue but also a danger to our citizens," Marty Johnston, City of Savannah, said.

What is being proposed is not a full ban but a limitation on dogs during the festival period which would be part of a revised festival ordinance Savannah City Council would vote on as we get closer to the big event.

Service dogs are a different story and protected under Americans with Disabilities Act.

Johnston also had a message for residents with dogs who live inside the festival zone.

"This is not about residents who live in downtown not being allowed to bring their dogs down for their daily routine. This is about dogs in large crowds we see that as a danger and we see it as a health issue. That is what we are looking to try and control," Johnston said.

Usually, these proposed changes are brought to council in February. This year, after requests from council, the St. Patrick's day task force and the Riverfront Savannah groups made sure to bring these ideas up early and include them in the festival ordinance.

Sanitation and public safety topped the list of proposed changes for this year's St. Patrick's day festivities.

The wristbands and dog ban are big changes, but a lot of time was spent discussing the state of the porta potties. So many people, and not enough porta potties, raising even more health concerns. The last few years, people started bringing their own private bathrooms which caused some issues too.

"Our issue is portalets which stay on the right of way, that get knocked over or start blocking someone's driveway or near kitchens and restaurants is a health code issue," Johnston said.

The city brings in as many porta potties as they can, but with huge crowds, cleaning those out while the festival and parade are underway proves to be difficult. The aftermath, described by Johnston, is "atrocious."

So, the city is allowing people to bring a private porta potty if it is loaded on the back of a truck, stays on the back of a truck, the truck is legally parked and moved immediately following the parade.

Johnston said the more people who do that will only help with the sanitation issue and rest room lines.

"Last year, we had 40 trucks with portalets. It's not really a significant number that people are going to use but anything that lessens the burden on public portalets is a help," Johnston said.

Last year, the city thought about trying to stop those trucks but had a change of heart when they saw the chaos and mess left behind at the public portalets. They can only place public one's in so many locations before it disrupts residents.

The revised ordinance will be presented to council, with suggested changes, in February.

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