Kansas City, Mo. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is leaving downtown after 35 years.
The annual event, which draws thousands of participants and tens of thousands of spectators, had been a downtown tradition since a tavern owner in 1974 donned a signboard marked “Parade” and led 30 people on a loosely planned stroll through downtown.
“Downtown was a great home for us for many years, but time are changing, and we felt this was a good time to try something new and embrace a part of the city where our roots are,” said Erin Kiekbusch, the president and co-chairwoman of the parade committee.
The new 1.3-mile route will begin at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a landmark church built with stones cut by Irish masons, and continue to the Westport entertainment district south of downtown. Along the way, paradegoers will pass through an area that used to be the traditional Irish immigrant community of Kansas City.
Pat O’Neill, who wrote a book on the history of the Irish in Kansas City and whose father helped start the parade in 1974, said the neighborhood was once called “Kerry Patch” after the county in Ireland from which many of the residents came.
“We felt like we wanted to look at our future and go back to having a neighborhood and community feel to the parade, make that our focus, which is really the heart of the Irish in Kansas City,” Kiekbusch said.
This year’s parade theme will reflect that new focus, titled, “Pioneering Spirit: The Irish in Kansas City.”
Parade officials say police have been supportive of the new route, which they consider more open than the previous one. The parade has been marred in recent years by violence and rowdiness, the worst possibly being in 2004 when 17 people were arrested for assault and disorderly conduct and two men were injured in a shooting.
Westport business owners are more excited by the good aspects of the parade. Many paradegoers have flocked to Westport’s restaurants and bars before or after the downtown festivities. Kyle Kelly of Kelly’s Westport Inn, an area bar, said it will be great having thousands of people in the area for the parade itself.