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Williams Park to go green Saturday and Sunday

Bill DeYoung



A guest at the 2003 Paddy Fest in Williams Park. Images: Screengrabs, Paddy Fest recap video.

St. Petersburg officially got into the St. Patrick’s Day business in 2023; the inaugural Paddy Fest, co-sponsored by the City, drew nearly 9,000 to Williams Park on a single day.

Round Two happens this weekend, Saturday and Sunday (the latter being the actual St. Patrick’s Day) from noon until 9 p.m., and organizers says they’re expecting perhaps 20,000 visitors in total to the now-expanded event. Admission is free.

Paddy Fest was dreamed up and produced by Pete Boland, owner of The Galley and Mary Margaret’s Mary Margaret’s Olde Irish Tavern, both of which have large St. Patrick’s Day schedules (he’s also a candidate for St. Petersburg City Council).

He was inspired, he explains, by the long-ago St. Patrick’s Day block parties on Beach Drive, kicked off by the gone-but-not-forgotten Courigan’s Irish Pub, and the Irish parties at Jannus Live.

“But it was always very adult-focused, Boland says. “Stereotypical kind of drunken Irish revelry, which is great fun … it’s fun during the daytime but it always gets more adult as the night goes on.”

And so the idea for a family-friendly festival was hatched. “It’s such a wonderful time in St. Pete, the weather’s amazing, it’s Spring Break. I look at St. Patrick’s day like Thanksgiving. It’s really about family, food, friends and fun.

“And with St. Patrick’s Day, it’s about a little whiskey, too.”

The Dunedin Pipe Band, 2023.

Each day’s stage entertainment will include the Dunedin Pipe Band, The Gilleoghan Irish Dancers, Drunken Shrubbery, Chad McDonald and Sean Patrick Walsh. Other events: A Celtic Games exhibition, on Williams Park’s extensive lawn, from the Foundation of Scottish Athletes; an extensive “Kid Zone” with bounce houses, lawn games, face painting and more; a presence from the co-sponsoring Tampa Bay Rowdies; food and beverage trucks (including alcohol for those with proper I.D.).

As with the 2023 inaugural event, the designated charity partner is waterway habit restoration charity Ocean Aid 360.

Last time, Boland says, “I feel like we knocked it out of the park. It was a steep learning curve. We learned a lot. It’s not easy – I think all of us, the owners and organizers, we agree that this might be the hardest thing we ever do, two days, 18 hours.

“We need 300-plus volunteers, we’ve got another 75 on staff, 50 vendors, live music all day, tons of food … we’re really excited about it, and we’re feeling pretty good going into this week.”

As with similar events like Localtopia and First Night, organizers pay the City’s Parks Department for its services, including venue rental, barricades, security, sanitation and other necessities. This automatically makes the City of St. Petersburg a co-sponsor. Boland and partners are paying the City $25,000.

“We want to take this thing very seriously, and pass it off to some other group 20, 25 years from now,” Boland muses. “I feel like it’s a responsibility not just to our business, and our reputation, but also to make it a family tradition. We really think that’s a big part of it.

“We want our kids here at home to always have a special place in their minds and hearts for St. Patrick’s Day.”

Williams Park is at Fourth Street and First Avenue North, St. Petersburg.

Across the bay

They’ll be dying the Hillsborough River a becoming shade of green Saturday, as they do every year over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The occasion is Tampa’s River O’Green Fest, a family-friendly event with food, beverage, two stages of live entertainment, Irish sport games demonstrations and more. It’s free (11 a.m.-6 p.m.) at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 600 N. Ashley Drive.

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