More than 47,000 people gathered in Columbia’s Five Points March 18 for the neighborhood’s 35th St. Pat’s festival. It’s a day many look forward to every year, but for those who live and work in the community and beyond, the day’s benefits last far beyond the final song and final drop of green beer.
“The retailers for the most part don’t make anything on St. Pat’s, but what they do benefit from is the fact that this festival allows us to do sidewalk sales and Christmas promotions that also don’t make money, things that drive people into the neighborhood and beautification projects,” said Five Points Association Executive Director Amy Beth Franks. “St. Pat’s pays for our website and visitors’ guide. It’s a perfect complement to our hospitality tax to keep this neighborhood where it should be.”
The impact goes beyond the neighborhood too. Each year, local nonprofits supply volunteers to help run the event, and in return the Five Points Association donates part of the proceeds to the organizations. This year, 34 charities received a total of $47,450. Franks called the volunteers the backbone of the festival, and added “We love giving back to the community.”
Franks works almost year round to plan and execute the festival, alongside a 19-member committee. The weeks before the big day include a lot of late nights, and the event itself typically means more than 24 consecutive hours on the job, but that’s only the peak. “It’s always so disappointing to me that people think as soon as the festival’s over that my schedule clears up,” she said with a smile.
“The planning for next year starts immediately,” she explained. “Offers [for festival performers] start coming out in August. Before you make offers you’ve got to finalize budget. And before you can finalize budget you’ve got to solidify your committee.”
Many of the committee members have served for years, helping bring the festival together. “Most of them have been on the committee longer than me,” Franks said. “Part of what I love about St. Pat’s is working with that group.”
This year’s was a success by any measure, drawing one of the biggest crowds in the event’s 35 year history despite rain early in the day, which Franks said may have kept the numbers from going even higher. “With that weather forecast, and it snowed the Sunday before! If you’re coming from out of town, that’s going to affect you,” she said. “Had we had perfect weather, I think it could have been a record-breaker year.”
With planning already underway for the 2018 edition of St. Pat’s in Five Points, Franks hopes to continue the trend of emphasizing music and other entertainment over the green beer (though the traditional St. Pat’s beverage will never go away).
“We want it to be more music than beer,” she said. “We’re trying to being in all these different types of music stages, silent disco. We just want people to have stuff to do. I’m all about the experience.”
Franks hopes to eventually see St. Pat’s in Five Points, which already draws visitors from all over South Carolina and neighboring states, grow even bigger.
“The best case scenario for me way down the line would be to double the ticket price, maybe make it two days, and really make this a tourist attraction,” she said. “I want this to be something the whole city feels even more than they do now.”
Whatever the future holds, the first priority for Franks, the committee members who work alongside her, and the business owners who make up the Five Points Association will always be community.
“Every day I come to work with the goal of keeping Five Points a clean, safe, vibrant part of our city,” Franks said. “Anything I can do to make this place cool and fun and welcoming: I really try to sell it as an experience. Five Points is just a place of who you are. Are you a Five Points person or are you not? And I am.”