You can always expect the unexpected at the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival. Tuesday morning, Savannah-Chatham Metro Police invited WTOC into a closed door briefing on how they plan to deal with the festivities, and what details are set in stone.
What WTOC learned was to at least expect a shorter parade, featuring at least 50 less entries than last year, around 300 to 320 total according to police estimations, and also stricter handling of out of county lawbreakers.
The basic focus points remain the same: crowds, traffic, parking and port-a-potties.
St. Patrick's Day, the parade and the two day festival, both separate, but tied together, are, hard to believe for some, only 10 days away.
People are expected to arrive in Savannah by early next week. Police have their action plans ready to go, and they shared it with City of Savannah bureau chiefs, Chatham Area Transit, Savannah Riverfront, City Market businesses and other law enforcement agencies involved in helping make the event safe and run as smooth as possible.
Road closings, command control, and barricade plans are all set. Next week, they will be in place and put into action. River Street will close on the morning of March 14 at 8 a.m. City Market will follow at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon. This year, Bay Street will remain open except during the parade on Saturday morning and afternoon. However, if crowds become an issue like in years past, police tell WTOC they will close Bay Street down, most likely Saturday night.
As we've been telling you, this year River Street will not be the only entertainment festival zone, as the city attempts to spread crowds out throughout downtown with a controlled expanded entertainment festival zone. From 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. March 15 and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. March 16, the expanded zone now includes River Street to Broughton Lane, from Drayton Street to Martin Luther King Blvd., and Bay Street to East Broad Street. So, City Market, Congress Street, Ellis Square, Johnson Square and more are now inside the entertainment zone which will feature several stages and bands starting at 3 p.m. both days.
Inside the zone, between those hours, attendees will also have to be wearing a bracelet in order to drink alcohol in public. The $5 bracelets will be available at 22 locations plus roaming sales vendors throughout the zone. Some hotels may also be selling wristbands to guests. The wristbands will be red for Friday, fluorescent blue for Saturday, and for people who will be attending the festival both days, you can purchases both wristbands at once, but they must be kept on for duration of the festival.
Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Lt. David Gay told WTOC officers have been told to lead festival goers who are not wearing bracelets, but are drinking in public, to where they need to go to get a bracelet, or to dump their drink out. However, he is asking officers to use their judgement. In some cases, if someone steps outside of a business to smoke and wants to return inside, they ask officers not to force someone to get a bracelet to be outside.
As far as people getting rowdy, or breaking the law, which does tend to happen during festivals sometimes, Recorder's Court in Chatham County is not being as forgiving in 2013. If you break a local ordinance, and you are not from Chatham County, you may have to spend some time at headquarters, or even behind bars.
"In the past, we've looked at it as a local ordinance violation and you had good ID and you lived in one of the surrounding counties we were able to release you on that citation. This year, that's going to change because we're only releasing you if you're from Chatham County," Lt. Gay told WTOC of the Recorder's Court policy change.
The city has planned extra parking and shuttles at the Westin on Hutchinson Island, and this year, if you plan on taking a taxi, there are no taxi stands. All taxies will be directed to Broughton Street.
"This year, no taxis stands because last year, nobody could find them and it was an issue. They couldn't get to the taxi stands. So we came up with a location. Anyone who wants a taxi can go to Broughton Street," Veleeta McDonald, Savannah Parking and Mobility Services, told WTOC.
The City of Savannah and Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department are also urging residents and visitors to use their social media pages to keep up to date on everything from road closures, parking issues, the start time of the parade, schedule changes, parking garage availability, port-a-pottie lines and crowd surges by liking them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/savstpat?fref=ts and Following them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/savstpat.