The following is an explanation from Belleville Chamber of Commerce CEO Jill Raycroft on the changing of the city’s Santa Claus Parade route for 2018.
Dear Members of the BDIA Board of Management,
I understand there are some concerns being expressed with the need to change the Santa Claus Parade route for this year. I appreciate this opportunity to offer an explanation and hopefully, generate understanding and cooperation for this year’s event. I would prefer to have this in a conversation but hopefully, with the documentation in hand – our meeting in person will be to brainstorm the positive possibilities the change will provide.
As you may not know me that well and this conversation requires some level of trust – I do want to establish that two years ago, I jumped on the bandwagon fighting the move off Front St. It made absolutely no sense to pull the parade from the newly unwrapped Phase 1 of the Revitalization. Knowing what I know now – and how putting the parade on Front St. actually diminishes the ability of our community to come and stroll the area – I believe there is merit in having the Parade cross through and having people walk down the street rather than stand in one place.
As the agency contracted to coordinate this City event, our goal is to present the community with a Santa Claus Parade that offers families with young children a fun, free event and bring people together to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season. To that end, downtowns have been the logical choice for these events for generations because they provide long stretches of sidewalk, a contained area that traffic can be diverted around and hopefully encourages shopping in the area stores. And, as much sense as a Saturday afternoon parade made – 20 years ago, we broke with tradition and started a night-time parade. No doubt this shift was so well received because the floats look magical adorned with lights and with just the right amount of snow, the spirit of the season is hard to resist!
If we were to agree that few people like change, holidays ARE all about tradition and the Chamber has the best interests of business at heart always – I hope you will also appreciate the decision to move the parade has nothing to do with wanting change just because, a desire to break tradition or a deliberate interest in pulling support from the downtown.
In 2018, we are faced with a different situation as issues of safety become increasingly important and logistics more difficult to manage. And our end location is no longer available.
Susan loses sleep at night trying to figure out how to make everyone happy.
Few people see the amount of time or effort this takes and I would ask you comment mindfully on the route change after considering the hours of work that go into the planning, the coordination of both volunteers and paid staff, the organization of multiple entries (we had 76 last year) and ultimately, how many fingers are crossed for good weather.
None of our decisions are made lightly or because we want to move. We were informed recently by letter the HPEDSB will not allow us to use the Quinte Secondary School Property and our “end” station is no longer available. We had to come up with a new place for the parade to go because otherwise, it has no place to end. I know it’s tempting to provide alternatives but for this year, your support in making this work is a much better use of all our time and energy.
Many alternate routes have been suggested over the years which included Sidney Street, Cannifton Road (north end), Bell Boulevard, North Front Street and College Street, however, those plans were not acceptable as they did not include any part of our downtown. They are also logistically impractical.
Each year presents new challenges to the route and we fully expect this year’s plan will change again next year. In fact, we would appreciate a scheduled meeting with the BDIA for next April with all the stakeholders present to address what the route for 2019 will look like.
We assure you this years’ route was only arrived at through very thorough consideration, extensive research completed when a significant change was required in 2016 and our ongoing desire to have the parade go through the heart of the City.
Rationale for 2018 Bridge St. Route:
(76 entries including marching bands and 53’ transport trailers)
We need a very large, well-lit and open assembly area and use the entire Fairgrounds property which should give you an idea of what footprint we need to be able to manage all float sizes, walkers, riders, drops offs, pick-ups etc.
Moved the assembly area to the Fairgrounds in 2016 to accommodate the number of entries and larger floats
There are hundreds of parents dropping off children who are participating on floats, playing in bands, etc. There must be a safe area where they can drive up, drop off, and drive away, or, find an area close by to park and leave their vehicles. The Fairgrounds property is perfect for this as there are so many huge lots surrounding the Bridge/Sidney intersection.
(Multiple cars lining areas to pick people up, children moving and trucks idling)
QSS has been less than ideal for many years
Switching it to the end zone made it slightly more manageable
One of the major downfalls at QSS was the lack of lighting and thousands of dollars had to be spent annually on tower lights.
On August 8th we were informed that no further permits will be issued for “community use” of the QSS School property. At this point we do not know whether this is a short term or long term rule. There are plenty of rumours, but no official announcement from the Board on their plans for the property. They wished us luck in our search for a new location.
When choosing an end zone which will be manageable for our Marshals and safe for all participants we need equal space to the assembly area. At the end zone of the parade these drivers need the same amenities in order to pick up the participants.
SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS (appropriately presented by external groups)
We cannot take the parade over the tracks on Front/Pinnacle/Church Streets, etc. This presents a scheduling and safety issue with CPR, the CP Rail Police, BPS, Fire and EMS.
Access to Front St.:
Campbell & Victoria provide the only access to Front St for emergency personnel; while an injured person might be moved, a fire would present a very different problem
Some of the alternate routes suggested also include corners that are not maneuverable by 53’ transports, which are quite impressive as floats. The drivers are too high to see the crowds along the streets and the more twists and turns the parade has the higher the level of danger.
Some of the newly designed areas on Front Street have actually been narrowed and there are new islands also in place which prohibit access to some bridges from certain directions. Turning radius is very tight for transports and trucks pulling very long trailers with people on board. (We were cautioned the parade might not be able to turn onto Front St last year)
Hydro wire heights and the grade on hills
Wide open well-lit space is the best scenario for assembly and end zones to manage the challenge of the boarding and offloading of float riders (many children).
These safety issues exclude route options such as Victoria Park, Harriett Street, Meyers’ Pier, George Street boat ramp, Jane & Mary Streets (beside the Court House), etc. A route to and from the Fairgrounds might seem obvious but is fraught with turns, twists & street closures – not to mention the length. (The Bridge St. route is 3.8 km)
BPS are key partners helping us to provide the crucial safe environment from start to finish … assembly, route, end zone and overall traffic control. A permit must be filed for any parade in the City and BPS have to agree with all terms and conditions before the permit can be approved. We have worked closely with the BPS as prospective routes have come up for discussion and they have guided us through this process understanding the desire to keep the parade moving through the Downtown core. Even with the knowledge we possess having organized this event for the past 12 years, there were times when valid reasons were given why some plans could not come to fruition.
What we didn’t realize until we spoke with Dwane was how early the parking lots were closed in the Downtown core the day of the parade. Eliminating the parking significantly decreased the number of people who could even access prime viewing locations on Front St. Changing the route will mitigate this and might encourage even more people to the free parking within walking distance of the parade.
The 2018 route allows for free parking downtown in lots, or on streets to be accessible right up until parade time. No closures of Front, Campbell, Victoria, Pinnacle, Market or McAnnany would be necessary. Traffic flow on Front & Pinnacle heading north or south would only be interrupted once the parade approaches.
The enthusiasm to bring shoppers down to “showcase” our new Downtown and kick off the Christmas Season is at a high point right now! The Downtown Revitalization project has been long and tedious and as a Chamber we are very well aware of how it has affected business and the economic climate in our City. The end result will be beautiful.
It is therefore our hope that the BIA will look at the positive side of this 2018 route as it does travel through two of the busiest intersections in the City and with all parking being free and totally accessible, an event could be planned to build excitement leading up to parade time.
The Chamber would love to assist your staff with some special planning for this 20th Anniversary “Christmas In The Village” Celebration which could include (with permission), but not be limited to :-
an official ceremony for tree lighting at Century Village at 4:30pm immediately preceding the arrival of the parade floats
musical entertainment on the concourse of Century Place
the new lighted Belleville Sign brought downtown for photo ops
bleachers for seating to watch the parade (Fair Trade Works)
a large “warming station” to hold up to 1,000 people (at the Armouries)
viewing from The Belleville Club
hot apple cider, coffee or hot chocolate
a visit by Santa’s LIVE reindeer
a Christmas Window Decorating Contest judged by the public with prizes for one lucky shopper and the winning business
photo contest for capturing best Downtown streetscape
The possibilities are endless. Perhaps the current Thursday evening December 15th plans could be switched to the Sunday? Encouraging people to come and park in the free lots and along Front St will result in far more foot traffic along the street as opposed to someone finding their spot to watch and running back to their car once it is over. If businesses chose to be open in the afternoon – you would also be attracting a shopping crowd, not just a parade crowd of parents, strollers & young children. We can imagine Focus, the Lark, Dinkel’s, Paulo’s, Earl & Angelo’s and even the Belleville Club all inviting a more adult crowd to the area – who might just stay for the Tree lighting and the parade.
The Chamber would partner with all promotion, including an aggressive Social Media Campaign.
In addition to the hub of activity that could happen in the Downtown, we’d like you to consider the opportunity for how many more people might be able to enjoy the parade from other locations that don’t require long walks with young children, less crowding and better viewing for little ones, allow seniors to view from inside and even give the residents of the East Hill an opportunity to build their own events around the celebration. Not only does the spirit carry through the Downtown but across the City – making the parade a true community event.
In closing, I’d like to share this comment from another Downtown business owner who has also been a Parade Marshal for many years.
“Knowing what I know, from my Marshal experience, this seems like the best route. The two ends determine the route in my opinion. You need a huge set-up area and a large end point for disembarking. Having everything lined up on the racetrack and inserting the transports is great. You can see the whole of the parade at once, eyes seeing everything instead of running around or radioing is great I think. This route makes it more of a City event. It still goes through the downtown, just not where we are used to. I don’t know what businesses downtown benefitted from it and how the route change will affect them, but if the police are ok with it, as in people can still get around the route if need be, I think this pretty ideal. Things evolve. Because of its’ success it has grown and adjustments need to be made.”
Thank you for your time to review our situation and how we have come to make this change for 2018.
As mentioned above this is the route for 2018. In spring of 2019 we will gather community partners together, including you to discuss future routes and examine all options. Adapting the route has become more the tradition of late; had we known earlier than last month –we’d have included you in the discussion this year.
Ultimately, we would love the BDIA to embrace the change and get excited about what something new and different might look like. We understand that is tough but your support through the media, with your members and the general community could make this parade the best it’s ever been. This is our challenge together, we really ARE on the same side and let’s put forth a united front.
I look forward to a conversation in person and invite any one of you to reach out as is convenient.
CEO|Belleville Chamber of Commerce
613-962-4597, ext 4