'Lovely, lovely, lovely.' That’s how Kenny Hill, director of the Savannah Riverfront Association, felt about St. Patrick’s Day festivities on the river this year. "The weekend before the festival days were record days for many of our River Street businesses," he says. "I’m very, very happy about that.
"The crowds seemed to be in good moods," Hill says. "People in the service industry and the servers did very well throughout the festival. That’s a wonderful indication that people are tired of the gloom and doom."
It also was a relief. With the economy in the toilet and locals grumbling about the rowdier aspects of the festival, no one was sure how things would go this year.
The city had made a couple of changes. The gates that once blocked River Street at past festivals were gone, and the curfew had been put back to 3 a.m.
Hill didn’t miss the gates. "It was much more pleasant (without them)," he said. "We had a lot more people walking back and forth throughout all the venues in city.
"There wasn’t any waiting at the gates," Hill said. "And it was a lot prettier. Aesthetics are important to psychology. Without the gates, River Street is not flat, and everyone can see all the way down it."
Of course, there were some bad moments. "We had our ups and downs with people getting a little too toasted and not being able to find a bathroom," Hill said. "But most people had a very good experience.
"Monday was not great for the Waterfront Association because of the rain, but the restaurants, bars and shops did better because of it. And that was certainly made up for on Tuesday. When the sunshine returned, it was spectacular."
No numbers have been crunched yet, but the crowds didn’t seem much smaller than usual. "We are in the middle of counting wristbands," Hill said. "Many merchants sold them, as well, we don’t have final numbers yet."
A strong police presence helped keep the festival on track, Hill said. "There were so many police on foot, so problems were more easily remedied than in the past," he said. "One person thought swimming in the river was a fine idea, but they got that taken care of.
"Medstar had ambulatory teams as well as all other teams," Hill said. "Their presence on the plaza certainly gave a sense of security. Their ability to respond quickly was amazing."
Hill said the festival wouldn’t be possible without support staff. "It’s times like that when people pull together," he said. "We were able to run a huge event with a skeleton crew.
"With that support staff, as well as our sponsors, we had record numbers in the Southeast for the tow-and-go drunk driver project," Hill said. "I was very, very happy with those numbers and am very, very proud of that."
Apo. Gene Harley of the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Public Affairs Office said one problem with not having gates was that there were more juveniles on the riverfront because IDs weren’t being checked. In all, 12 juveniles under 17 were arrested for curfew violations.
But the curfew extension didn’t have an effect at all, Harley said. "We didn’t see an increase in arrests in the last hour," he said. "Really, there was no big influx.
"We had approximately 170 arrests total," Harley said. "A lot of arrests were for stuff that could be easily avoided, such as public urination, drinking way too much and passing out. Although it seems like there were a lot of arrests, most were minor and could have been avoided."
The most serious incident reported was a DUI - and it occurred in broad daylight. "Right after the parade, a lady drove her car through a barricaded area on Broughton Street," Harley said. "The police were there already. No one was injured, but the car was damaged a little bit.
"We had one person who decided to jump into the Savannah River to swim, which was dangerous because he’d been drinking," Harley said. "No one understands how strong the current is. He violated a city ordinance, so he was arrested."
For the second year in a row, Joe Marinelli, president of the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, accompanied Police Chief Michael Berkow on a four and one-half-hour tour of River Street during the festival. They were on the riverfront from 8pm to 12:30am on St. Patrick’s Day.
"Probably the two things that stick out to me that most of us would find unusual is the amount of what appeared to be teenagers roaming River Street," Marinelli said. "There were a lot of young parents with children on River Street that late, which really stands out in my mind as being something that we need to anticipate for in the future."
Marinelli pointed out the next day was a school day. "I don’t know enough about how things work to understand who those kids are or where they’re coming from," he said.
"Except for a lot of people being drunk and stupid, the two things that stand out to me appeared to be teenagers," Marinelli said. "They weren’t drinking, but the down side is, what were they doing out on a Tuesday after 9pm?"
Marinelli says he wants to see what goes on so he will understand the problems and challenges better. "My role as tourism chief in town is one that requires me to be in a lot of meetings," he said.
"St. Patrick’s Day having the importance that it has, there are many meetings throughout the year relating to how to manage an event as big as this," Marinelli said. "I can’t have a voice at the table until I’ve experienced it and observed it first hand."
Most partiers are tourists, Marinelli said. "Many Savannahians don’t bother to come down to River Street on St. Patrick’s Day night," he said. "A lot of Savannahians haven’t been to River Street at night for many, many years. What they remember from 10 to 20 years ago is very different from what happens today."
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