ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A nonprofit veterans group trying to stage a revival of the Alpharetta Old Soldiers Day Parade this August has called it quits.
The decision comes after failed negotiations with the City of Alpharetta over costs for police and other services. The city had been a longtime partner in the event with American Legion Post 201 but withdrew its support in 2019 following a legal battle with a group associated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
No plans were made for the parade in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic, although the Legion held a small event on its grounds on Wills Road.
The July 1 announcement ended almost six weeks of negotiations with the city.
“They just really don’t want to have a parade,” said Thomas Richardson, chairman of the Northern Arc Old Soldiers Day Foundation. “They don’t want a parade.”
Efforts by the charity began in earnest in mid-May to raise money to revive the parade that honored past and present members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The event, held the first Saturday in August, regularly drew close to 100 entrants, including floats, high school bands and dignitaries.
Back in 2019, the city said it spent more than $20,000 for its part in helping sponsor the parade, a figure that included police, public works and emergency personnel.
Richardson said that when he met with Mayor Jim Gilvin and city officials in May, he was told the city couldn’t justify spending that amount of money on a parade.
“They didn’t have a problem with it when their name was on the shirt,” Richardson said. “And, if it brings business into this city – restaurant, shopping, notoriety – [they’re] the beneficiary.”
He said the Foundation got initial approval and received an application for a parade permit. When they presented parade plans that followed the traditional route down Roswell Street, then west on Old Milton Parkway to the Legion Hall, the city notified them it would cost $31,000 for police, EMS, public works employees, equipment and sanitation.
The Foundation continued negotiations, shortening the route and trimming the number of police, but the best they could come up with was a bill from the city for $12,230, and that didn’t include insurance, traffic cones, street sweepers and other items required to stage a parade, Richardson said.
The clincher, he said, was when the city demanded the Foundation be financially responsible for additional contingencies, such as a greater police presence in case of unruly crowds.
“They wanted a blank check, and we couldn’t do that,” Richardson said.
The city had narrowly escaped a challenge earlier that year when Richard Leake and Michael Dean filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking an injunction against the city for refusing to allow the Roswell Mills Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans from displaying the battle flag in the parade. The city argued that similar flag displays had been linked to disorder at similar events across the country.
Less than 24 hours before the parade was scheduled to start, the judge denied to act on the pair’s request, basically upholding the city’s position, and the parade went off without a hitch the following day.
The case remains active on appeal and is scheduled for a hearing in September.
Richardson said the charity was formed to take responsibility for the parade.
“The whole purpose was to take that legal impact away from the city and away from Legion 201,” he said.
Alpharetta Mayor Gilvin said he regrets the organization has given up on the parade for this year.
“The city has made every effort to work with the Northern Arc Old Soldiers Day Foundation, as we do with any organization who applies for a permit to hold a special event in Alpharetta,” he said. “For any event being coordinated by an outside organization, the city provides a good faith estimate of the costs that would be charged for services such as closing roads, handling trash, and necessary police and first responder presence.”
Gilvin said the estimates are based on information provided by the permit applicant, and some of the important variables like crowd size can be difficult to forecast. If significantly more people show up for the event than anticipated or other factors beyond the city’s control require more personnel or equipment, he said the city reserves the right to charge for those additional resources.
While the city anticipated no additional expenses, Gilvin said the contingency clause is a standard precaution to ensure taxpayers are not left to foot the bill.
“The precaution has not, to our knowledge, dissuaded other event applicants from holding successful events in Alpharetta, and it is unfortunate that the Northern Arc Old Soldiers Day Foundation has made the decision to not pursue their event,” he said.
Meanwhile, plans are taking shape to hold some Old Soldiers Day event on the American Legion 13-acre grounds in Alpharetta. The Varsity has already confirmed an order of 500 hotdogs, a staple at past events.