St. Pete's holiday boat parade seems sunk

The Rotary Club of St. Petersburg won't host it this year,blames the Pier construction
The St. Petersburg lighted boat parade, a tradition for years, seems destined not to happen this year. [Times files]
The St. Petersburg lighted boat parade, a tradition for years, seems destined not to happen this year. [Times files]
Published November 1 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s annual illuminated boat parade apparently will be taking a hiatus this year.

Despite announcing that it can’t put on the December event, the Rotary Club of St. Petersburg is hoping it will go on, with the city charging in to rescue the popular, decades-long holiday celebration.

“We’re not cancelling the event,” Rotary president Troy Willingham insisted. “We’re just letting the city know that we cannot host it.”

Willingham blames the Rotary Club’s change of plans on ongoing construction of the city’s $76 million Pier District, not expected to be complete until late 2019. The club had planned to hold ancillary events for the lighted boat parade at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, which is on the Pier approach and affected by the massive construction project.

“We offset the cost of the parade, the grandstand, the advertising, the food, the entertainment, the security and the awards, with land-based events," Willingham said. He declined to say how much money was involved.

"This year, with the Pier construction, our land-based events just can’t happen. Our plan was to set up at the museum, both inside and out back. The parking lot is inaccessible and the grassy area is all dug up where we were going to have a lot of activities.”

Willingham said the Rotary Club notified the city that it was pulling out of the parade in early October.

“I just figured if we let them know early that we couldn’t sponsor it, that the city could coordinate the whole thing,” he said.

But Ben Kirby, spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman, said the city's Parks and Recreation Department, which supports the Rotary as it puts on the parade, has no plans to take responsibility for the event.

“I think there’s a great opportunity for them to work with us when the Pier opens and we have access to the land around the museum again,” Kirby said. “This is a temporary issue and we look forward to having the boat parade once again.”

The Museum of History has remained open during the Pier construction, but it has posed a challenge to its operation.

“There are a number of events that we knew we would not be able to host because of the construction situation,” executive director Rui Farias said.

“We keep looking at the big picture,” he said, alluding to the museum’s plan to take advantage of the construction around it by launching its own expansion project to dovetail with the new Pier District when it opens next fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re disappointed that we’re not able to host these events (but) a year from now, we’re going to have this amazing museum and this amazing Pier and it’s all going to be worth it. Hopefully, they’ll be able to do it next year.”

Willingham said it’s unfortunate that the Pier construction “is on a different schedule” than his club had been told.

“We were told that the museum would be available for the event. The folks at the museum were told that by the city, that it would be available during the holiday season,” he said. “It’s regretful. We started planning this in January.”

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.