79,238 wristbands for St. Patrick’s Day festival in Savannah: how should we judge the number?

For a variety of reasons, I oppose the sale of $5 wristbands to allow wearers to drink in certain parts of downtown Savannah during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. My main objection is that charging to do something that is otherwise legal throughout the rest of the year clearly discourages locals from entering the defined festival zone, which this year extended as far south as Broughton Lane.

More broadly, I oppose pretty much any measures that discourage public use of public spaces. See my recent post Maximizing public access to public places as a guiding principle of city management

Now we have some numbers on the number of wristbands sold on March 15 and 16 of this year. From Lesley Conn’s Savannah St. Patrick’s wristband sales near 80,000 sold:

At $5 each, the wristbands brought in $396,190. The city kept $1 from each sale, leaving the remaining $4 per sale, or $316,952, to be divided among the waterfront association, City Market Association and the Downtown Business Association. […]

Looking back to 2001, when a $5 wristband was required to drink inside the River Street control zone, sales were more robust than this year. The Waterfront Association reported sales of $424,000, which amounts to 84,800 sold. The festival also fell on a Friday-Saturday that year.

There were definitely more wristbands sold than I expected, but it was very difficult to formulate any sort of reasonable advance estimate. At the same time, 12 years ago we sold more wristbands only on River Street than we did this year in a much, much larger festival zone.

So that’s a clear indication that St. Patrick’s Day business is way down from what it was a decade or so ago. There are likely a variety of reasons for this, including the use of wristbands itself. Any time there are municipal decisions that set barriers for consumers, some consumers will be discouraged.

Many questions remain.

After the various business organizations cover their costs — the wristbands themselves, labor, the person-hours invested in planning, payment to bands and for the stages themselves, and so forth — how much money will they have left over? How will the wristband policies be implemented next year if the parade is held on the official St. Patrick’s Day, which is a Monday?

I’m curious to hear thoughts on any aspects of this policy and the numbers made public today. I’m especially hoping to hear some reactions from downtown business owners, including owners of establishments that serve alcohol and of businesses that actually see less sales and traffic during St. Patrick’s Day than on average spring weekends.

You can respond in the comments or email me at billdawers[at]comcast.net.


A reminder of this year’s “festival zone”:

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