CITY NOTEBOOK: Mayor Van Johnson says bars, clubs to be open for St. Patrick's Day Sunday

Mayor weighs in on Orange Crush 2024 for Tybee Island, Historic parade marker unveiling ceremony set for Saturday, and Savannah 'partners' with Ghana city

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Feb. 20, 2024 at City Hall.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Feb. 20, 2024 at City Hall.
At a weekly media briefing on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson addressed several topics while speaking for roughly 13 minutes before taking questions from the press. The mayor’s comments included confirmation that downtown Savannah bars and nightclubs will be allowed to open fully on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday, March 17. On standard Sundays in the city, bars which do not sell food cannot be open for business. But March 17 is no ordinary day in Savannah.

“State law allows us, once a year, to designate a Sunday for extended hours,” said the mayor on Tuesday. “Some of you remember last year, that (designated day) was the last day of the year and it was for New Year's Eve, which was on a Sunday. Being that Saint Patrick's Day this year is actually on a Sunday, and we're having our festivities on the 16th, I believe we're extending that over to the 17th as well.”

“I think that's kind of a no-brainer for us.”

When asked, Johnson did not yet know the full guidelines around the Sunday hours of operation for clubs and bars, which typically close at 3am (at latest) most of the week and at 2am (at latest) for those open on Sundays. But agenda minutes from a Nov. 21, 2023 regular city council meeting show hours of operation for establishments selling alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day were decided then.

Hours will be from 12:30pm-midnight. The resolution was passed by council on a vote of 8-0-1 with Alderwoman Keisha Gibson-Carter being absent.
“Mayor and Aldermen wish to avoid inequities that may result from allowing certain alcoholic beverage licensees to operate on Sunday, March 17, 2024, while others will be prevented from doing so under the state Sunday sales provision,” reads the resolution. “

Historic marker for St. Patrick’s Day parade history to be unveiled Saturday
The committee to commemorate the 200th St. Patrick’s Day Parade (SPDP) in Savannah is unveiling a brand-new historical marker at the same place where the first official Savannah parade started its route in 1824. Liberty Square, now the Robert E. Robinson parking garage directly across from the Chatham County Courthouse on Montgomery Street is that spot, and Saturday, Feb. 24 at 1pm is the unveiling date.


There will be a short program to unveil the marker, followed by a commemorative walk taking the first parade’s original route to the old city hotel, which is now Moon River Brewing (21 West Bay St.). The public is invited to attend the event, and more information can be found online at www.200thParade.com.

Savannah City Council agenda includes 'major special events' item
The fourth meeting of the year for Savannah City Council is slated for 2pm on Thursday, Feb. 22 at city hall. There are a few purchasing and organizational items of note on the agenda, which can be viewed in full by clicking here.

Agenda item No. 11 is a petition for changes to the special events portion of the city code. Permitting of special events has been on the minds of many in recent days following Tybee Island's call for help in regard to Orange Crush Festival 2024 (OCF) and more specifically, stopping the promoters behind it. OCF is the annual beach party which last year attracted more than 110,000 to the three-mile island of Tybee.
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Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Feb. 20, 2024 at City Hall.
Johnson is more than familiar with Orange Crush, but he said on Tuesday that he has yet to be contacted by any state lawmakers about legislation in the Georgia General Assembly aimed at preventing un-permitted event promoters from making money. He also said that no Tybee Island leaders, including first term Mayor Brian West, have reached out to him about any plans for how to best handle potential crowds for Orange Crush 2024.

"No, I have not been contacted," he said. "I was one of the purveyors of the original Orange Crush, and that tells you how long ago it was when I was a college student at Savannah State University. It initially was started by college students. We would go around, and we would travel to Daytona Beach for spring break or to Virginia Beach. But we recognized we had a resource, you know, in that we had the beach which is a public space and so we created Orange Crush."
Senate Bill 443 was passed by the Georgia Senate (47-1 in favor) last week and is currently moving through the House of Representatives. If signed into law, it would allow cities in Georgia to pursue organizers and promoters of un-permitted events (like OCF) for financial damages incurred during such events.

"Obviously, young people have got it in their minds that this is where they are coming," Johnson said. "It's a public space but obviously, it is a huge undertaking for a small island like Tybee. The traffic and the people, and all of it."

"But again, that is the price we pay for being cities that attract and welcome tourists. If they go to Tybee, they will end up in Savannah too. So, we will manage that as we manage our other events as they occur."

Social media promotions indicate there are several related events scheduled for venues in Savannah on Friday, April 19 and Saturday, April 20. Traditionally, the Friday night prior to the Saturday beach bash on Tybee is when many OCF attendees are out together in masses throughout downtown Savannah.

Partnership between Savannah and Ghana city inked on Wednesday
A partnership between the City of Savannah and the Accra Metropolitan Assembly from Ghana was made official on Wednesday during a virtual meeting to complete the signing of the agreement. Savannah city leaders, including Mayor Johnson, sat around a boardroom table on one side of the zoom meeting screen while leaders from Accra did the same on the other side.

The virtual meeting began with prayers from each congregation and included the National Anthems of both the United States and Ghana. The agreement between the two cities was the culmination of years of work, said one of the first speakers on Savannah’s side.

“This process started some ten, fifteen years ago,” said Dr. Joseph H. Silver, President of Silver and Associates education consulting firm and the former Vice President at Savannah State University.

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[DR. JOSEPH H. SILVER]
“It was 2011, or around that time, when the two countries came together to see how we could develop a partnership. We all recognize the inextricable link between Savannah and the continent of Africa.”

Silver also said that former Savannah mayors Otis Johnson and Edna Jackson began working towards an agreement while each was in office. Van Johnson continued that effort when he took office just over four years ago.