At last year’s St. Pat’s in Five Points, Harden Street, the yearly festival’s main thoroughfare, was a pedestrian parking lot.
The festival drew more than 40,000 people, a record for the event entering its 31st year. Festival organizers have announced measures to alleviate the street clogging — before and after entering the gates.
In a way, the festival grounds will be stretched.
“It’s not about realizing that there’s more space. It’s taking a look at how we use our real estate and being smarter about it,” said Merritt McHaffie, the executive director of the Five Points Association.
After 20 years of leadership, Jack Van Loan, who steered St. Pat’s from the brink of shutting down in the mid-’90s to profitability, stepped down as chairman after last year’s festival. McHaffie has added the role to her responsibilities, and she isn’t wasting time to make an imprint on the event.
“I have an opportunity before me, so why not take the opportunity,” she said. “My goal is to continue to try and attract people as well as retain an older demographic of people.”
For starters, the way people enter the festival is going to change significantly.
“It’s time we grow up and act like we’re selling to 50,000 people instead of 10,000,” McHaffie said. “It’s time we really focus our efforts to make this festival last.”
There were complaints that tickets purchased through etix.com, one of many online ticket retailers, cost much more than tickets purchased at the gate because of service charges. The festival is now using eventbrite.com.
People will now be able to pay for tickets with a credit card at the gate.
In previous years, festivalgoers had to wait in the same line to buy their ticket and have their bag checked. Then, once inside the festival, there was another line for ID. To decrease the time spent waiting in lines at the gate, there will be a separate ticket booth. Also, IDs will be checked outside of the gate.
“We’ve grown so big that we can’t have those two things happening in the same place,” McHaffie said. “It will help getting the crowd through with much more ease.”
According to the festival, food sales were down last year simply because people couldn’t reach vendors through the Harden Street congestion. This year, all vendors will be moved off Harden, save two beer trucks. The South Carolina-based food vendors will be placed in four food courts, with tents and chairs, throughout the festival. Also, in addition to beer, the festival will be selling non-alcoholic beverages in every food court.
The stage reserved for local bands is moving from the Five Points Fountain to a stage that will be near Chick-fil-A.
In recent years, sending texts and making calls while at the festival had become frustrating tasks. The festival is planning to alleviate the headache. Discussions have included bringing in a COW, an acronym for cell on wheels, a mobile cell site, as well as increased bandwidth availability.
“We are having a very good dialogue with Verizon,” McHaffie said. “We will definitely increase cell coverage this year.”
The St. Pat’s shuttle service from the festival’s parking areas has been running for four years. This year the festival is using bigger buses that will run more frequently.
Festivalgoers will receive a pocket-sized program with stage lineups and other pertinent festival information.
The V.I.P. area will move from The Gourmet Shop to Saluda’s restaurant where people can watch the festival from the balcony.
Trash receptacles will be dumped more frequently, and the festival received a grant from Palmetto Pride to enhance its recycling program.