New London is losing its Irish parade

So it looks like New London's St. Patrick's Day Parade is leaving town.

Members of New London Irish Parade Inc., the nonprofit that took over the popular event two years ago, voted last week to move the parade out of the city.

City Councilor Marie Friess-McSparran, president of the organization, said the parade organizers have been unable to come to terms with the city administration over how much the city would charge for police and public works services.

Mayor Finizio, in one of his executive orders, decreed that any organization that wants to stage an event has to reimburse the city up front for any costs it will incur.

The parade's problem, Friess-McSparran said, is that the city has only estimated its parade-related expenses - $6,500 for police and $1,500 for public works - and will not give a more definite number for several more months.

The means the organization can't establish its budget, take out a permit and begin active fundraising, Friess-McSparran said.

She said the organization has been in talks with other communities about hosting the event, but she declined to name them.

Richard Mastrandrea, vice president of New London Irish Parade Inc., has been leading those negotiations.

Mastrandrea said the organization is close to making arrangements with another community, but he told me they probably won't be ready to release details for another week or so.

I get the impression from talking to people familiar with the pending move of the parade that the new host community is going to charge quite a bit less than New London has estimated.

Since the imminent departure of New London's parade, which has been growing in popularity in its short existence, hinges on the cost of city services, I decided to track down organizers of the popular Mystic Irish Parade, to see how much they pay.

The Mystic parade, which draws as many as 25,000 visitors, actually crosses over both the towns of Groton and Stonington. This year will be its ninth parade.

Leo Roche, president of the Mystic Irish Day Parade Foundation, told me the organization pays about $5,000 combined to both the Stonington and Groton police departments.

That's kind of a bargain, compared to the estimated minimum cost in New London of $6,500, given the size and scope of the Mystic event.

Still, it's not the cost of paying New London that's driving her organization from the city, Friess-McSparran said. The real problem is that they still have only an estimate that they have been told could increase, she added.

Roche said fundraising for this year's Mystic parade is in full swing. He said local businesses are usually generous because the parade generates a lot of traffic downtown.

I tried Tuesday to reach Diarmuid Hanafin, owner of Hanafin's Public House, the Irish pub on State Street in New London, since he was one of the original organizers of the New London parade.

Hanafin was out of town but I spoke with his wife, Catherine, who told me how sad they are to see the parade leave.

"It is such a shame," she said. "The reason my husband started it was to bring people to New London."

Diarmuid Hanafin, marching the 1,000 feet of the short parade route in 2008, four blocks up State Street, called the "baby parade" a "start" toward something bigger.

City Councilor Michael Buscetto III, later a candidate for mayor, was also a sponsor of the original parade. He and other councilors even agreed to reschedule a City Council meeting the night of the first parade to the next evening.

Buscetto not long ago put his house in New London on the market and announced he is moving away.

Now it looks as if the parade he helped organize is leaving, too.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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