Saint Patrick's Day festival changes up in the air

City Council held a meeting to discuss the changes today.
City Council held a meeting to discuss the changes today.

By Don Logana - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - If you usually head to River Street for Saint Patrick's Day festivities, you may find some changes this year.

With just 47 days to go, Savannah city leaders were briefed today on changes that could happen.

The city has decided to hold a public hearing on proposed changes February 10 at 7pm at the Savannah Civic Center, inviting everyone to offer their thoughts.

The changes have been talked about for a few months now, but nothing official. This has irked pretty much the entire Savannah City Council, who say they never were approached or briefed on the changes. Community leaders say change is necessary and they want it this year.

River Street used to be considered party central during Saint Patrick's Day.

"This thing isn't just all about River Street anymore. It's City Market, Broughton Street, MLK Boulevard. This city is growing and the party has outgrown just River Street," Bill Hubbard, president of the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, told WTOC.

This year, the chamber has other plans. Hubbard says change is needed.

"It's not a place you will feel comfortable with your wife going or even with a 21, 22, 23-year-old adult children going. It's just more bad things happen than good things," Hubbard said.

Today, Hubbard laid out recommendations for Savannah City Council members.

For the 2009 Saint Patrick's Day festival, the chamber and Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to eliminate gates on River Street as well as wristband sales, changes to two ideas implemented just a few years ago.

Plus, beer vendors would not be allowed to sell alcohol in public places while bars and restaurants would be allowed to stay open until normal closing times.

"I'm not excited about any changes popped on us at the last moment without thoughtful input from the public," Alderman Tony Thomas told WTOC.

Here is the deeper issue. City leaders say no one told them about these changes.

"If you do away with the gating, what security will be put in place? That's what I want to know," Alderman Jeff Felser said.

"If these are huge issues, why haven't we been briefed prior to this," Thomas said.

"We are prepared to do both, but working with the city, we were leaning towards doing it without the gates," Jack Bussert with the Savannah Waterfront Association told WTOC.

Bussert also runs the River Street Inn. He says gates on River Street don't work and vendors selling beer doesn't seem like the right thing to do this year.

"With the economy the way it is, as a merchant organization, we are trying what we can to help out and we don't want to compete with local guys selling beer and food," Bussert said.

During the meeting, last year's festival on River Street was called disgusting and fears of it turning into a new spring break were mentioned. Hubbard thinks the changes will help.

"It just gets to be a wild, out of control, drunken affair. Restaurants have to close for the obvious reasons. All we hear about is how people couldn't find a bathroom and did all the things in public you shouldn't do," Hubbard said.

Meanwhile, WTOC spoke to several people walking along River Street, some middle-aged and older, who say they loved the festival last year and are coming back this year with more family members and friends.

The chamber and Waterfront Association say this is the year to make changes and look forward to the next couple of years, including possible wrist banding for a much bigger festival area in the future.

They expect less people this year than in the past because Saint Patrick's Day falls in the middle of the week and will do so until 2012.

Again, there will be a public hearing on February 10 at 7pm at the Savannah Civic Center. The festival changes will be part of an already planned town hall meeting.