ST. PETE BEACH — Residents of Pass-a-Grille and Vina del Mar are upset about the shortened route of this year's Holiday Boat Parade.
A volunteer committee responsible for organizing the annual event will be asked to come to the City Commission meeting Tuesday to explain why it changed the route and whether it can be changed back.
"Changing the boat parade route now would be problematic," City Manager Mike Bonfield told the commission last week. "My recommendation is to let this go. Get through the event and when it's over we can plan for next year."
Bonfield also pointed out that the boat parade is not a city-funded event and is supported by individuals, organizations and businesses in both St. Pete Beach and South Pasadena.
"I certainly don't want any bad feelings over this," said Mayor Michael Finnerty. "This is one of the best events on the west coast of Florida. Maybe there is a compromise with this routing."
The Holiday Boat Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony is set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12, and the land parade will be held at 9 a.m. Dec. 13. The land parade route will be the same as last year, but the boat parade route is shorter and reversed, starting in South Pasadena.
The new route is scheduled to begin near Egan Field, go through South Pasadena and then go south to end at the Merry Pier. It will also eliminate many of the side routes into waterfront neighborhoods.
The boat parade is expected to reach the St. Pete Beach Community Center around 6:30 p.m. A viewing party, hosted by the city Recreation Division, will start at 6 p.m. with the tree lighting ceremony.
Steve Hallock, the city's public services director, said the committee shortened and reversed the route because the parade had been losing boat participation.
Residents in Pass-a-Grille and Vina del Mar are particularly miffed that they were not consulted before the decision was made to change the boat parade route.
"These communities are pretty angry and upset about the change," Dick Livingston, president of the Vina Del Mar Homeowners Association, told the commission.
"At the very least, we should have received notice that changes were being considered," he said. "Both communities are pretty upset."
Livingston asked that the route not be changed this year.
The boat parade previously began at Merry Pier on the south end of St. Pete Beach and wended its way north through canals and along the Intracoastal Waterway to South Pasadena.
The parade often lasted four hours or more, and many boats left the parade before it was over. Also, in recent years, fewer boats participated.
In an attempt to attract more boats and keep them in the parade longer, the committee decided to shorten the route to about two hours and reverse the direction.
The committee also changed the boat parade from a Saturday to a Friday.
Commissioners were bombarded with messages of protest.
"Friday is a poor choice for working people who host a lot of parties along the way," Ann Michael wrote in an e-mail to the commission. "This tradition was started more than 25 years ago."
Elizabeth Estabrook wrote that she "will have to cancel my party, along with many others" and asked "who the hell thought this up?"