Returning Christmas parade to Downtown not that easy

As an 11-year veteran and past chairman of the Salisbury Christmas Parade committee, I am not surprised the idea of returning the parade to Downtown Salisbury has come up yet again.

Salisbury Jaycees President Emily Nock has promised the chapter will revisit the possibility of moving the parade once construction is completed on the Downtown Plaza.

Those changes certainly should be taken into consideration; however, the article in the Dec. 11 issue of the Salisbury Independent implies that is the main obstacle standing in the way of relocating the event.

Widening the Plaza solves only one — not all — of the problems of bringing the parade back Downtown.

Still at issue is finding enough room for approximately 100 entries to line up safely and efficiently before the parade, including parking for 20 to 25 buses and numerous passenger vehicles dropping off Scouts, band members and other participants. (Anyone who would like a firsthand look at how this “controlled chaos” works — or occasionally doesn’t — in real life, as opposed to on paper, may consider volunteering during next December’s parade.)

Determining a viable route that could travel through the Downtown area without closing off Routes  50 or 13, doubling back within a block of itself (imagine a band attempting to keep in step marching in one direction while another band plays a different song going the other way one block apart) or potentially hindering ambulance traffic to Peninsula Regional Medical Center also is problematic.

I understand there was a route that worked in 1979 (the last year the parade was Downtown). Changes in traffic patterns and density, as well as an increase in the size of entries, would make returning to that same route difficult more than 35 years later.

Then there is the issue of spectator parking. Currently there are two large public parking areas downtown: a gated lot and parking garage, both exiting onto Market Street within a block of each other.

The thought of hundreds of cars trying to crowd onto that street from those two areas at once at the end of the parade doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I don’t even want to imagine the scene should plans move forward to build on the gated lot, leaving the garage as the lone major spectator parking area.

Throughout the past decade, the Jaycees have re-evaluated the parade’s location multiple times. In 2006, the parade moved from Eastern Shore Drive (where it had been held since 1989) to its current route on Mount Hermon Road and East Main Street as a compromise, not quite getting it Downtown, but putting it closer to the heart of the city.

The Jaycees have long been supporters of Downtown Salisbury. The organization has enjoyed participating in 3rd Friday activities, and held social events and banquets at Downtown restaurants. Its annual Salisbury Super Soapbox Spectacular soapbox derby takes place Downtown every August, and its Treat Street safe Halloween trick-or-treating event has drawn thousands to the Plaza since 2008.

The chapter’s office and meeting space have been located Downtown since 2003. To paraphrase Barbara Mandrell, the Jaycees were Downtown when Downtown wasn’t cool.

Personally, I would love to see the parade added to the roster of Downtown Salisbury activities. However, there are many logistical and public safety considerations to keep in mind when determining the feasibility of relocating the event to its pre-1980 home.

The argument heard most often — “But it’s Downtown!” — doesn’t change any of them, unfortunately.

The Jaycees founded the parade Downtown in 1947. It would be great to see it return to its original location, but it may take more than just the widening of one street to make that happen.

Jason Rhodes is a past chairman of the Salisbury Christmas Parade.

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