South Side Irish Parade on return route?
BY MARK KONKOL Sun-Times Media August 1, 2011 10:44PM
Jim "Skinny" Sheahan directs a meeting August 1, 2011 at the Beverly Art Center at 2407 W. 111th Street to discuss ideas regarding bringing the South Side Irish Parade back to the area. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: November 2, 2011 5:50PM
The South Side Irish — at least some of them — want their St. Patrick’s Day parade back.
On Monday, about 50 folks angling to revive the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade — which marched for the last time in 2009 after 31 consecutive years — gathered at the Beverly Arts Center to discuss how to resurrect a more sober version of the St. Patrick’s Day tradition on Western Avenue.
After the last parade — which was crowded with more than 300,000 revelers and resulted in 54 arrests, including one for aggravated battery of a police officer — the South Side Irish Parade Committee decided in a 12-to-9 vote to pull the plug on the Mardi Gras-like event.
James “Skinny” Sheahan presided over Monday’s “public airing of feelings” aimed at brainstorming ideas for a successful “one-year trial” return in 2012.
“The whole parade was a victim of its own success. I think it’s a fixable problem, but we have to have a consensus and as many people as possible on board and have a plan. It’s been gone for two years and I think that’s a good thing,” said Sheahan, who was former Mayor Richard Daley’s parade and special events czar for a decade. “If we start over, I think it will be a good thing again. We have to do it right.”
That means having zero tolerance for public drinking during the parade, he said.
“If the parade comes back, it’s going to be part of a bigger thing. It’s not just the parade. We’re looking at making this a whole weekend of activities, positive activities,” Sheahan said. “The parade has to be refocused. It has to be about what it was originally. It has to be about families. There should be no alcohol (on the street) during the parade, period.”
The committee is considering proposals that call for a parade that is shorter in time and length, starts earlier and includes a no-alcohol-drinking enforcement perimeter surrounding the route. Police and private security would monitor Metra trains and CTA buses for beer-swilling paradegoers, patrol side streets for drinkers with open containers and add police checkpoints aimed at keeping private “beer buses” from suburban and North Side bars from entering the neighborhood on parade day, among other things.
“It started as a guy having a six-pack and cooler on the parade route. It was no big deal. Then it started to get really out of control. People walking around with kegs on their shoulder,” parade committee spokesman Jim Davoren said. “It’s gotta be controlled.”
Talk at the public meeting focused on developing a more specific security plan for the parade that includes ticketing people for drinking on the public way. A key component to the plan would be raising cash from businesses and donors to help pay for extra
Sheahan said other parades and even the Taste of Chicago have had drinking-related problems in the past and have been successfully reformed.
Davoren said the committee has been receptive to the idea of bringing back the parade on a trial basis, but no final decision has been made.
“Do it for one year and see what happens,” Sheahan said. “The sad thing about it is that there are so many little kids on the parade route. It’s a great day for the neighborhood. It’s unfortunate some idiots come in and goof it up for everyone.”
Local business owners — including tavern bosses who make a killing on parade day — have privately offered to chip in to pay for extra security if necessary.
That includes Bill Baffes, owner of County Fair on Western, who said he wants to see the parade return so Beverly will again get citywide exposure. He also wants his 17 grandchildren to enjoy the parade tradition that was so important to the neighborhood for so long.
“This parade needs to come back because it’s tremendous for the community. It needs to be managed better and be a little different, but it’s a big deal,” Baffes said. “People don’t know Beverly without the parade. Beverly is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets — a village in the city, we call it. Without the parade, we get no exposure.”
Sheahan said he hopes to put together a security plan and present it to Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19th) and the police department.
“Matt’s going to take a wait-and-see thing. Police, they want to see if we’re going to do it, No. 1, if we’re going to raise some resources to put a good security plan. That’s all they need,” Sheahan said.