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Lack of sponsor cancels Santa's parade this year

City officials ''welcome anybody aboard'' to revive the decades-old downtown St. Petersburg tradition in 2002.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 31, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Santa Claus still is coming to town. But for the first time in years, he won't have a parade.

A popular downtown fixture for decades, this year's Santa Parade has been canceled in St. Petersburg because no sponsor came forward to help.

"It's out the door. Time has just gotten away," said Stevie Osterland, the city's special events supervisor.

"I don't know if people are going to think it's because of all the (terrorist-related) events that have been happening, but it's totally not," Osterland said. "It's because of a lack of a sponsor."

Other traditional holiday activities, such as Snowfest, the Christmas in the Park craft show, the tree lighting and the Lighted Boat Parade, will go on.

Santa himself will be ensconced as always in North Straub Park, where the right old elf he will receive visitors Dec. 1-24.

Tampa's downtown holiday event, SantaFest, is Dec. 8 this year.

City officials hope the parade in St. Petersburg, which some records show began in 1927, is not dead forever. They are searching for a 2002 sponsor.

"We'd welcome anybody aboard," Osterland said.

She said it costs a sponsor $5,000 to $6,000 to back the parade. It also means the sponsor must be willing to let an employee dedicate 21/2 months to organizing the event.

Time Warner had sponsored the parade the past three years.

"It's fairly labor intensive. It costs some money. We just wanted to give someone else an opportunity," said Brian Aungst, the Clearwater mayor who also is Time Warner Communications' regional public relations director.

"There were a couple of people who worked on it. Basically, half my staff," Aungst said.

The St. Petersburg Times also has been a sponsor, most recently from 1984 through 1997. The Times ended its role "primarily because of the time it took," said Anthea Penrose, public relations manager.

The parade, typically about 90 minutes long, usually drew 6,000 to 8,000 people downtown, Osterland said, although a newspaper article from the 1960s said 55,000 showed up.

The line of march has varied through the years. The parade used to come down Central Avenue. More recently, it has started on Third Avenue S, moved to Bayshore Drive, turned north and ended near the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

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