St. Patrick’s Day revelers crowd bars in Savannah


Massive crowds of St. Patrick’s Day revelers have descended on Savannah, Georgia, leading the city’s mayor to call it a ‘recipe for a superspreader event’ amid efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Savannah, long known for hosting the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the South, cancelled its parade for the second year in a row, but the city still expected up to 50,000 out-of-town visitors to arrive over the weekend.

On Saturday night, huge crowds were seen swarming the Plant Riverside, a new $375 million hotel and nightlife development whose owners are promoting a six-day festival with live music, a large fountain synchronized to Irish music and green lights illuminating the complex built from a shuttered power plant.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said the festival plans were ‘a slap in the face’ to the city’s efforts to curb coronavirus infections by foregoing events that draw big crowds.

‘To advertise this huge festival with the intent of drawing people to a particular space in the middle of a pandemic, when we know social distancing and mask wearing is not going to be enforced, is horrible as far as I’m concerned,’ Johnson said. 

Massive crowds of St. Patrick’s Day revelers descended on Savannah, Georgia on Saturday night, leading the city’s mayor to call it a ‘slap in the face’ to efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic

Savannah is bracing for over 30,000 tourists for St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Pictured, downtown Savannah on Saturday

Savannah is bracing for over 30,000 tourists for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Pictured, downtown Savannah on Saturday

Big crowds cut loose in Savannah on Saturday night. Organizers insisted they took steps to keep the festivities safe

Big crowds cut loose in Savannah on Saturday night. Organizers insisted they took steps to keep the festivities safe

On Saturday night, huge crowds were seen swarming the Plant Riverside, a new $375 million hotel and nightlife development whose owners promoted a festival with live music

On Saturday night, huge crowds were seen swarming the Plant Riverside, a new $375 million hotel and nightlife development whose owners promoted a festival with live music

Savannah City Hall withheld a permit for the sprawling St. Patrick's festival that's typically a magnet for beer-fueled revelry along the city's riverfront promenade -- but that didn't stop the bawdy revelries on Saturday night

Savannah City Hall withheld a permit for the sprawling St. Patrick’s festival that’s typically a magnet for beer-fueled revelry along the city’s riverfront promenade — but that didn’t stop the bawdy revelries on Saturday night

The Plant Riverside District festival started on Friday and is going on through Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day

The Plant Riverside District festival started on Friday and is going on through Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day

The Irish holiday typically means Savannah’s manicured squares and magnolia-shaded sidewalks are packed with thousands of gaudy green revelers on March 17. 

But with Georgia still reporting at least 1,000 new COVID-19 infections daily while ranking last in U.S. vaccinations, city officials pulled the plug on this year’s parade – as they did a year ago when the pandemic was starting.

Likewise, Savannah City Hall withheld a permit for the sprawling St. Patrick’s festival that’s typically a magnet for beer-fueled revelry along the city’s riverfront promenade of bars and souvenir shops.

But sidelining Savannah’s largest gatherings hasn’t stopped the party. The city’s top tourism official says hotels in the downtown historic district could be 90 percent full this weekend – the busiest they’ve been in the past year.

‘People know that Savannah is a St. Patrick’s Day destination, they know the holiday is in the middle of the week and they´re going to come the weekend before and after,’ said Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the city’s tourism bureau. He added that ‘COVID fatigue and pent up demand’ for vacations are helping drive visitation.

St. Patrick's Day revelers packed downtown Savannah on Saturday night, letting loose despite pandemic warnings

St. Patrick’s Day revelers packed downtown Savannah on Saturday night, letting loose despite pandemic warnings

Sidelining Savannah's largest gatherings and parade hasn't stopped the party. The city's top tourism official says hotels in the downtown historic district could be 90 percent full this weekend - the busiest they've been in the past year

Sidelining Savannah’s largest gatherings and parade hasn’t stopped the party. The city’s top tourism official says hotels in the downtown historic district could be 90 percent full this weekend – the busiest they’ve been in the past year

Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health's coastal district, said big crowds filled with visitors could also spread coronavirus variants that otherwise haven't come to Savannah

Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s coastal district, said big crowds filled with visitors could also spread coronavirus variants that otherwise haven’t come to Savannah

Savannah, long known for hosting the largest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the South, cancelled its parade for the second year in a row, but the city still expected up to 50,000 out-of-town visitors to arrive over the weekend

Savannah, long known for hosting the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the South, cancelled its parade for the second year in a row, but the city still expected up to 50,000 out-of-town visitors to arrive over the weekend

The Plant Riverside hotel and entertainment complex hosting the big festival sits on four acres of private property, so it doesn't require a city event permit

The Plant Riverside hotel and entertainment complex hosting the big festival sits on four acres of private property, so it doesn’t require a city event permit

Organizers of the Plant Riverside events insist they can safely manage a big street party, encouraging face masks

Organizers of the Plant Riverside events insist they can safely manage a big street party, encouraging face masks

The Plant Riverside hotel and entertainment complex hosting the big festival sits on four acres of private property, so it doesn’t require a city event permit. Still, the mayor said he could use police to block public access to city-owned routes to the festival property if crowds pose a public health risk.

Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s coastal district, said big crowds filled with visitors could also spread coronavirus variants that otherwise haven’t come to Savannah.

‘Anytime there´s a big influx of people from elsewhere, or just big crowds that are going to be partying to some extent, I get concerns that we´re going to set ourselves up for a superspreader event,’ Davis said.

Organizers of the Plant Riverside events insist they can safely manage a big street party. Mark Castriota, the development’s managing director, said its staff will ‘strongly encourage all guests to wear face masks and to practice social distancing.’

‘We want to provide an opportunity for people to have fun in a safe environment as part of a new St. Patrick´s Day tradition in Savannah,’ Castriota said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. ‘We take safety very seriously and will encourage attendees to comply with all City of Savannah requirements and CDC guidelines.’

Savannah's mayor says police will be enforcing a citywide mask mandate among St. Patrick's crowds, with violators facing possible $500 fines

Savannah’s mayor says police will be enforcing a citywide mask mandate among St. Patrick’s crowds, with violators facing possible $500 fines

The St. Patrick's Day celebration arrives as Georgia ranks last in the nation for vaccinating its population against the virus

The St. Patrick’s Day celebration arrives as Georgia ranks last in the nation for vaccinating its population against the virus

A motorist passes through downtown Savannah as the St. Patrick's Day party rages on Saturday night

A motorist passes through downtown Savannah as the St. Patrick’s Day party rages on Saturday night

Despite the lingering health risks, Savannah's hotels and shops, bars and restaurants are hungry for tourism dollars

Despite the lingering health risks, Savannah’s hotels and shops, bars and restaurants are hungry for tourism dollars

Savannah police check on a pair of distressed revelers as the festivities took their toll on enthusiast participants

Savannah police check on a pair of distressed revelers as the festivities took their toll on enthusiast participants

Police patrol downtown Savannah on Saturday night, where large crowds let loose after a wearying year of pandemic

Police patrol downtown Savannah on Saturday night, where large crowds let loose after a wearying year of pandemic 

Savannah’s mayor says police will be enforcing a citywide mask mandate among St. Patrick’s crowds, with violators facing possible $500 fines.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s standing emergency order prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people unless social distancing is observed. 

Restaurants can open without capacity restrictions, but must distance tables. Bars and nightclubs can admit at least 50 people without restriction.

The St. Patrick’s Day celebration arrives as Georgia ranks last in the nation for vaccinating its population against the virus, with just 17.5 percent of adults statewide having received at least one shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

City Hall hasn’t been alone in pushing for increased caution during St. Patrick’s Day events. The private committee that organizes the city’s 197-year-old parade opted to hold some events without crowds and stream them online – including Friday’s ceremony to dye fountain waters in Forsyth Park a glittering emerald green, which usually draws hundreds of cheering onlookers.

Taxes collected on hotel and motel stays in Savannah plummeted by 50% in 2020, leaving the city hungry for revenue

Taxes collected on hotel and motel stays in Savannah plummeted by 50% in 2020, leaving the city hungry for revenue

Just 17.5% of adults statewide having received at least one vaccine shot in Georgia, the lowest rate in the nation

Just 17.5% of adults statewide having received at least one vaccine shot in Georgia, the lowest rate in the nation

'Anytime there´s a big influx of people from elsewhere, or just big crowds that are going to be partying to some extent, I get concerns that we´re going to set ourselves up for a superspreader event,' one health official warned

‘Anytime there´s a big influx of people from elsewhere, or just big crowds that are going to be partying to some extent, I get concerns that we´re going to set ourselves up for a superspreader event,’ one health official warned

Savannah's mayor called the six-day St. Patrick's Day festival at Plant Riverside 'a recipe for a superspreader event'

Savannah’s mayor called the six-day St. Patrick’s Day festival at Plant Riverside ‘a recipe for a superspreader event’

Partygoers are seen in downtown Savannah on Saturday as a festival on private property is expected to draw huge crowds

Partygoers are seen in downtown Savannah on Saturday as a festival on private property is expected to draw huge crowds

Despite the lingering health risks, Savannah's hotels and shops, bars and restaurants are hungry for tourism dollars

Despite the lingering health risks, Savannah’s hotels and shops, bars and restaurants are hungry for tourism dollars

Despite the lingering health risks, Savannah’s hotels and shops, bars and restaurants are hungry for tourism dollars after a punishing 2020. Marinelli of Visit Savannah said business began rebounding last summer, but taxes collected on hotel and motel stays in Savannah plummeted by 50 percent overall in 2020.

‘Last year hurt a lot,’ Marinelli said. ‘We really need this one badly.’

Meanwhile, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for second year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Crews on boats began dumping green dye into the riverfront about 7am after Lightfoot authorized the dyeing ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, delighting pedestrians with the vivid scene.

Meanwhile, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for second year

Meanwhile, the Chicago River was dyed a bright shade of green Saturday in a surprise move, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed an earlier decision not to tint the waterway for second year

Workers clean a boat in the Chicago River after it was dyed green in celebration of St. Patrick's Day on March 13. The dyeing of the river, a St. Patrick's Day tradition in the city, was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Workers clean a boat in the Chicago River after it was dyed green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 13. The dyeing of the river, a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in the city, was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Johnny Ludwig and Chris Coomes play bagpipes ahead of St. Patrick's Day along the Chicago River, dyed green every year to honor the city's Irish American heritage

Johnny Ludwig and Chris Coomes play bagpipes ahead of St. Patrick’s Day along the Chicago River, dyed green every year to honor the city’s Irish American heritage

Chicago residents Lori Jones and Mike Smith surveyed the green waters, saying they were glad the tradition that dates to 1962 was resumed this year.

‘We´re happy that Mayor Lightfoot decided to continue with this tradition because we truly missed it last year, as a lot of other things in 2020,’ Jones, 59, told the Chicago Tribune.

Last year, Lightfoot abruptly canceled the city’s 2020 parades and the river dyeing just days before they were to take place in the early days of the pandemic. 

She called off the parades again this year due to the lingering pandemic and said the river would once again not be dyed.

But a Lightfoot spokesman said in a statement that the city opted ‘to honor the long-standing tradition’ and authorized its partners, the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130, to dye the river. 



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