Bring on dem golden slippers!
After days of negotiations between the city and the Philadelphia Mummers Association, an agreement was reached last night that preserves the annual New Year's Day strut. That means feathers, sequins, grease paint, tiny parasols, and a whole mess of banjoes will be making the long trek up Broad Street, albeit in a shorter parade than years past.
"We got a deal. The word is to go. We're thrilled about that, but we know we also need to raise a lot of money because we're $400,000 in the hole," said attorney George J. Badey III, who represented the Mummers Association in its negotiations with the city.
Negotiations began after the city announced that it was no longer able to foot the entire tab for putting on a parade.
Last night, the Mummers Association, a confederation of marching clubs, met in their museum on Two Street in South Philadelphia to consider Mayor Nutter's best offer: $300,000.
They agreed. After meeting two hours, Badey said, presidents of all divisions signaled that they would participate.
Badey said U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady showed up at the Mummers Museum and said he would personally raise $50,000 for the effort - even if it meant he had to dig into his own pocket.
Under the arrangement negotiated earlier yesterday, the city's contribution to the estimated $347,000 cost of the parade would be capped at $300,000 for crowd control, sanitation, emergency medical personnel, and related services, according to mayoral spokesman Douglas Oliver.
The parade - which each year draws tens of thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants - would follow its traditional route from Broad Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia to the judging stand at City Hall, Oliver said, adding that it was slated to run 61/2 hours.
In past years, the parade, from staggering step-off to feathery finish, has run officially for eight hours, but, like the Academy Awards, it always runs into overtime.
Last year's operating cost of $760,000 was attributable to the fact that the parade ran 12 hours because of a three-hour rain delay, Oliver said. This year, he said, the parade will be canceled in the event of heavy rain.
"We are hoping to keep it to the time limit this time because there really is a lot of urgency involved," Badey said, acknowledging the city's fiscal crisis.
The fate of the strut has been in doubt since Nutter, citing the plunging economy, said the city could no longer subsidize the event.
He initially said Philadelphia could not afford to contribute the prize purse of $355,000 that is distributed to the winners in the prancing comic, saucy string band, and regimental fancy brigade divisions. Top prize in the string band division, for example, was about $10,000, Badey said. This year the winners get bragging rights.
In a subsequent announcement, Nutter said the city also could not shoulder the parade's operating costs. After Mummers and their supporters pleaded for special consideration, Nutter said the city could provide up to $300,000 in services.
The Mummers have argued that they deserve special treatment because the parade is a nationally recognized symbol of the city and generates substantial revenue from hotel occupancy taxes and other spending. An economic-impact statement commissioned last month by the Mummers Association pegged the value of parade-related tourism at $994,000, and tax revenue at $800,000.
According to a summary the city presented in the context of negotiations, the $347,574 estimated cost of the 2009 parade breaks down as follows:
$237,518 for street closures, public safety and crowd control, including 610 police patrolmen and commanders.
$48,663 for traffic-safety cones, barricades, portable toilets, sound system and judging stands.
$27,440 for street cleaning and trash removal.
$27,953 for fire and emergency medical service support.
$6,000 for noise-control complaints and code enforcement.
As the deal is structured, the city would absorb $300,000 of those costs, leaving $47,574 to be paid by the Mummers and their supporters. That shortage and the $355,000 they are not getting to cover prize money mean that the Mummers' budget comes up about $400,000 short, Badey explained.
The Mummers are accepting donations to help defray costs of the parade. A sign on the front door of the Mummers Museum encourages passersby to "help support the Mummers. Donate to savethemummers.com."
A poster on the counter, featuring a drawing of the city skyline, a banjo, and a parasol, says simply: "savethemummers.com."