Albany’s Irish need no reminders about the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Potential troublemakers do. Mayor Kathy Sheehan on Wednesday repeated the rule — alcohol will not be allowed during Saturday’s seasonal march.
In a press conference inside the City Hall rotunda, Sheehan said plans continue to make the parade a family-friendly event. Approximately 25,000 people are expected to line Central Avenue, Washington Avenue and State Street to cheer singers, dancers and Irish boosters who will celebrate the day.
The parade begins at 2 p.m. on Central Avenue at Quail Street. This year, families are being encouraged to come downtown earlier. An “Irish American Family Festival” will be held at Academy Park, located on Eagle Street across from City Hall.
“We’re going to have food, clowns, music, dancing, all traditional Irish,” said Chasity McGivern, administrator at Albany’s Irish Heritage Museum. “We’re going to have story telling and vendors.”
The party will begin at noon and run until 5:30 p.m.
This will be the second year that people will not be permitted to bring their own alcoholic beverages to the show. In recent years, Albany officials have been trying to reduce any chances for rowdy behavior on parade Saturdays.
In 2011, a small riot broke out in the city’s Pine Hills neighborhood hours before the parade started. Intoxicated people, many from the University at Albany, overturned cars and clashed with police. More than 40 arrests were made and since that year, UAlbany’s spring break is held during St. Patrick’s week.
There have been other problems connected to the parade. In 2013, 12 young men brawled on the steps of West Capitol Park. An Albany police officer was punched in the face; four were arrested.
Sheehan said the parade is part of Albany’s heritage and tradition.
“I think, for many years — and this just isn’t me, it came from the police chief and from others in the city — there were concerns about the way the city was being treated by visitors coming to enjoy the parade and the parade festivities,” she said. “We needed to take a longer view on what it is we want the Capital City to be known for.
“This has really been driven by the parade committee as well,” Sheehan added. “They want the city to ensure this is a family-friendly event. I recall very vividly marching with Cub Scouts one year, when the parade used to go down Pearl Street, and turning on Pearl Street and having people screaming at these kids and throwing things at them. It was, quite frankly, a drunken melee.”
Georgette Steffens, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, said the parade and the late summer “PearlPalooza” music festival are the two biggest days of the year for the 40 or so restaurants, pubs and coffee shops in the Eagle, Pearl, Broadway and Madison areas.
“The day sort of starts earlier,” Steffens said. “They’ll have a morning or lunch crowd they probably wouldn’t have on a Saturday. After the parade, most people will come down for the live Irish music the different bars will have. If the parade ends at 3:30 … their nighttimes will start a little bit earlier.”
Albany police Chief Brendan Cox said the no-alcohol policy is now standard at outdoor events such as the annual Tulip Festival and “Alive at Five” summer concert series.
“It’s worked really well,” Cox said. “What we’re most proud of is that it’s worked well through education. People have really understood it makes sense — to not come, overindulge and cause issues that would take away from what this city is about.”
Cox also said people watching the parade should also be watching around them.
“In 2016, we need to be vigilant,” he said. “We ask all of our community partners, all of our event goers, in any event and especially with the parade coming up, to make sure they’re vigilant. We ask people if they see something, say something.”
Sheehan also said cleanup was much easier after the 2015 parade, with no bottles and cans left behind. She added that Wednesday’s conference was a way to get out the word about the no-alcohol policy, and maybe reach people who did not attend the rainy 2015 parade.
“With the nice weather coming, we want to make sure the word is out there,” Sheehan said. “The city code prohibits open containers. It was ignored in the past. We’re not ignoring it any more.”
•The parade begins on Central Avenue at Quail Street, proceeds east on Central to Washington Avenue, then east on Washington Avenue to State Street, then east on State to Lodge Street.
• The 2016 grand marshal will be Timothy McSweeney, president of New York State’s Ancient Order of Hibernians and a member of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.
•The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee has designated the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York as the parade’s sponsored charity in commemoration of the Great Hunger in Ireland during the mid-1800s.
• A hotline, 518-300-0570, has been created for parade revelers to alert Albany police about non-emergency incidents during the afternoon.
• Parade committee member Paul Collins said the day begins at 9 a.m. with a service at Blessed Sacrament Church on Central Avenue. “That Mass sets the tone for the day,” he said.
• Beginning at noon on Saturday, Central Avenue between Manning Boulevard and Quail Street will be closed for the parade lineup. At 1:30 p.m., the parade route will be closed to all traffic.
• The parade will be preceded at noon by the annual North Albany Limericks Parade, which begins on North First Street at American Legion Post 1610.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.