SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Savannah Mayor Van Johnson announced Tuesday during his first weekly update of 2021 that the city will not be hosting its traditional St. Patrick’s Day events for the second year in a row due to the state of the pandemic.
Mayor Johnson said he spoke to health officials and local leaders before making the decision to cancel this year’s celebrations.
“I hoped and prayed that our situation might improve. But I think that with what we witnessed this holiday season, we put the health of our city and our citizens at risk. Therefore, I recommending that we continue our moratorium on event permits issued by the city through the end of March 2021. This will, unfortunately, mean two straight years without our World famous St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” said Mayor Johnson.
After making the announcement, the mayor cited behavior by residents and visitors over the holiday weekends as an example of why they do not feel confident in allowing the parade to happen.
“If we could not manage this during a holiday weekend, how could we manage St. Patrick’s Day,” Mayor Johnson asked.
The mayor also said he believes things may have been different if there had been a statewide mask mandate.
“Frankly speaking, without a statewide mask mandate, and with conflicting rules from our state that don’t require universal, science-driven precautions to be mandated by private businesses, we cannot do St. Patrick’s Day safely in its current form. And I again call on our governor to mandate masks throughout the state,” said Mayor Johnson.
This decision will obviously have a direct impact on the hospitality industry and tourism, with many local businesses anticipating St. Patrick’s Day as the biggest and busiest event of the year.
“I am recommending that we continue our moratorium on event permits issued by the city through the end of March 2021,” said Mayor Johnson.
He says other events like Mass at the Cathedral and the greening of the fountain are not out of the question.
“That we will work with them to find safe ways to highlight the sanctity of the Saint Patrick’s Day observance. Even if we are not able to keep the festival.”
The mayor says the decision was reached while working with the official St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee.
“I appreciate the patience and understanding of the parade committee. As we continue to work together to keep people safe,” said Mayor Johnson.
“You know, I wish this whole year had gone different for everybody but we know that, and I think everyone else knows deep down in their heart, while it’s disappointing these are the things we have to do right now so we can see a great 2022 parade,” said Committee Chairman John Fogarty.
The following statement was posted on the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee’s Facebook page shortly after the announcement was made:
The Savannah Waterfront Association also released a statement saying, “This morning, Mayor Van Johnson announced that out of an abundance of caution for public health, safety and welfare, the city’s moratorium on event permits will continue through March 31, 2021. This year’s Festival of St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day Parade will not take place due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and our case numbers are spiking up to levels we haven’t seen since August. We are asking our member merchants, restaurants, bars, and hotels to continue to take preventative action to keep our community safe and our local economy and businesses open. We know that there will still be residents and visitors on the waterfront celebrating St. Patrick. More detailed information will be available soon as we safely plan for those customers.
With the parade being canceled, the Waterfront Association expects fewer participants to come down and enjoy the stores and restaurants along the water, but say they are still expecting some people to come take advantage and socially distance while they do so.
They say they do not have exact numbers but they are expecting a similar turnout to what they saw in 2020.
“We would just really use 2020 numbers as a guideline because we didn’t have a festival in 2020, and we still saw folks traveling and celebrating Saint Patrick. So we probably use 2020 as a guide. We are going to continue doing what we are doing. It’s tough, but we are going to make it through and when this is all over we are going to have one heck of a celebration on the waterfront,” said Julie Musselman, Savannah Waterfront Executive Director.
They do expect the cancelation to have a financial impact on businesses but say it’s nothing they cannot recover from.
Talking with tourism leaders, they say they expected this cancellation due to the pandemic.
Joe Marinelli of Visit Savannah says they’re at least glad the cancellation comes early enough for people to plan - both tourists and business owners.
“It gives potential travelers time to plan when they want to visit and build itineraries accordingly. So, I think it works for our favor for sure,” Marinelli said.
March also marks the arrival of Southwest Airlines bringing flights in and out of Savannah. He thinks that could help bring visitors here over more than just one week.
He believes some tourists will still visit Savannah - around or during the St. Patrick’s Day season. He hopes Savannah can still see some of its usual springtime tourism, just spread out and not as concentrated. That could prevent crowding and hopefully keep people safe.
Re-watch Mayor Johnson’s entire news conference below: