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Organizers Say the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade May Not Happen This Year

So here's some potentially lousy news: The Greenville Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade, that beloved march of green-tinted debauchery that's been blowing down Greenville since 1979, appears to be on its deathbed.

The concert at the parade route's end will play on, headlined by Ryan Bingham. The party on Lower Greenville isn't going anywhere, either. And the Observer's marketing team, which sponsored and produced the parade for much of its existence before pulling out last year, is making a last-minute effort to drum up support from the businesses that line the parade route.

But failing that support or some other unforeseen development, the event's 33-year run will come to an end, Jorge Levy, president of the Greenville Avenue Area Business Association, told me today.

Here's the gist: For the parade's first several years of existence, the event was small and cheap to put on. But through the 1990s and 2000s, crowds swelled past 100,000 and costs grew. In recent years the cost of the parade nearly doubled, from $45,000 in 2007 to more than $75,000 last year, with the bulk of that money going to the city for off-duty police.

From 1997 until last year, the Observer picked up those costs. But with the price climbing, the paper pulled out last year, focusing instead on the concert.

GAABA got help from a beer distributor and was able to keep the parade alive, but it lost a little money in the process, Levy told me. And this year, with the St. Patrick's Day holiday falling on a Saturday and big crowds expected, the city told him that more barricades and cops would be needed, driving costs closer to $100,000.

Between entry fees and corporate support, GAABA can cover about two-thirds of it, Levy told me. But he doesn't see the rest of the money coming. And if it doesn't come before February 17, he's calling it off.

A couple of hours ago, I spoke with city councilwoman Angela Hunt, whose district includes the parade route. She said that after years of frustration over clean-up and security, she's been happy with the parade in recent years, and she doesn't want to see it die. But with the city facing a $50 million-or-more budget gap, she doesn't expect City Hall to kick in.

Our marketing folks tell me that the Observer will try to drum up financial support from Greenville businesses, in hopes of keeping the parade alive. (Happy bar owners are good for business.) If Levy sticks to his deadline, they have two weeks to land about $40,000 in commitments.

We'll update you when we know more, and we'll see you somewhere on Greenville either way. We'll be the drunk ones wearing green.

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone