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Santa Parade gets rolling on Saturday

By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 28, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Nearly declared dead a few weeks ago, the annual Santa Parade downtown will step off Saturday as one of the biggest holiday marches in recent city history.

Boasting 118 units, including bands, floats, horses and city officials -- and of course St. Nick -- the parade will start at 10 a.m.

It will line up near First Avenue S and First Street, proceed to Bayshore Drive and turn north, march to Fifth Avenue NE, and disband in front of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

The grand marshals are members of PYT, an all-girls pop music group from the Tampa Bay area, popular among MTV fans.

The St. Petersburg Lions Club pledged this month to rescue the parade after city officials announced its demise because no sponsor had stepped forward.

It took a flurry of work by Lions official Daniel Beauchesne, other club members and publicist Michelle Simoneau to pull together a parade that typically takes six months to organize.

"It's been a full-time job," said Beauchesne, the Lions youth activities chairman and a longtime Santa Parade fan who said he couldn't stand to see the event die.

People who wanted to participate responded in force when word got out that the parade would go on.

Early this week, city special events supervisor Stevie Osterland said callers still wanting to get in left a batch of messages over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The parade is being billed as the 74th.

In the line of march will be seven bands, 15 floats, clowns, antique cars and horses. "Everything that makes a parade a parade," Osterland said.

Firefighters and the fire department's color guard will lead the parade. City officials will ride in vehicles. Santa and Mrs. Claus will ho-ho-ho and wave from the rear.

The parade begins a slate of weekend activities.

The annual Snowfest, a youth-oriented event, takes place in North Straub Park from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday. Featured will be a snowball target throw, a toboggan slide, a moon walk, crafts, ice skating, pony rides and a petting zoo. There will be a small charge for activities.

The Christmas in the Park craft show takes place as usual in South Straub Park from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Santa, meanwhile, will be escorted by firefighters to his sleigh in North Straub Park. He will be available for visits with children from noon to 3 p.m. and from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

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