Next Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and while Pensacola has one of the oldest Carnival season traditions in the United States, we generally get most of our partying in on the weekend beforehand. Namely, two parades in downtown Pensacola and a third on Pensacola Beach.
Tens of thousands of people come and enjoy the Mardi Gras parades at no cost at all, except maybe a few bucks for a good place to park. But the parades require a pretty big chunk of investment — by the parade organizers, of course, and by the City of Pensacola, which budgeted over $80,000 this year for the seven downtown parades. Most of that goes to overtime pay for public works employees and police officers, and it’s a lot lower than it used to be.
“In the last two years, our cost has gone down maybe fifty percent,” notes Public Works Director Al Garza. The Public Works Department spent $49,112 on parades in FY 2009, and only $25,498 in FY 2010. Much of the cost savings has come from smart rescheduling, so workers don’t incur as much overtime. The Pensacola Police Department has taken a similar approach with its officers, whom Garza says are essential for an orderly parade.
“Barricades are nice, but without those blue lights, people don’t seem to understand what they mean,” he laughed.
Early Friday morning, city workers start dropping off parade barricades around the trees on Palafox Place. It’s a lot easier to place those at 5 am than after the morning traffic arrives. The crews (not to be confused with the krewes) return at around 4 pm to drop off the rest of the barricades for the 7 pm evening parade — 1,300 in total. Afterwards they’ll pick up many of them, but the newly bustling nightlife scene south of Garden Street requires some additional consideration.
“Palafox Place has created a dilemma for us,” Garza said. “It’s become a nightclub mecca. After the parade, the party ends up in the street, making it almost impossible to pick up the barricades. So we wait till about 11, when the crowds have thinned out.”
As for cleanup, the parade organizers are responsible for picking up all the debris left behind the curb — which is substantial, since the litter barrels only handle a fraction of the trash generated by the crowds, from broken strands of beads and unwanted moon pies to leftover food and beverage containers. The city’s responsibility is to clean the streets, including all the empty boxes and plastic packaging that falls from the floats as riders hurry to rip open the next bag of throws. Because a lot of alcohol is consumed during the parades, and a lot of that gets spilled on the ground, the city has started power-washing sidewalks with a deodorizing agent.
The whole cleanup process is amazingly quick and a testament to all the planning and work of everyone involved. That’s something to remember when you’re enjoying the parade or hanging around downtown afterwards.
The Krewe of Lafitte Illuminated Parade starts tonight at 7 pm; the Grand Mardi Gras Parade will roll “rain or shine” tomorrow at 2 pm; and the Krewe of Wrecks Mardi Gras Parade on Pensacola Beach takes place Sunday at 2 pm.