City of Jacksonville taking back Light Boat Parade, moves to Thanksgiving weekend

Jacksonville, FL — The Jacksonville Light Boat Parade will be back on Thanksgiving weekend this year, as the City takes back ownership of the event and the estimated $60,000 bill.

WOKV has learned that decision is coming at the request of the JAXSPORTS Council, who had been hosting the event for the last few years.

We first started asking about the event, after finding a line in the $1.2 billion City budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, which said some overtime salary costs were being reduced in a Sports and Entertainment subfund, in order to offset the cost of adding the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade as a new event. The City confirms they are budgeting $60,000 to sponsor the event, although the overall City budget proposal is still pending approval by the Jacksonville City Council.

IN DEPTH: WOKV digs in to $1.2 billion City budget proposal

Asked why the City is taking on the event again, a Spokesperson says the JAXSPORTS Council decided not to organize and sponsor it any more.

“As a long standing Jacksonville holiday tradition, Mayor Curry wanted the event to continue under the purview of the City, returning to Thanksgiving weekend,” says the City statement.

The JAXSPORTS Council initially denied that, in an interview with WOKV.

“I don’t know why they would make that statement, since we budgeted it in our budget,” said JAXSPORTS Council and Gator Bowl Sports President and CEO Rick Catlett during the interview.

Catlett first told WOKV during two separate interviews that the City wanted the event back. JAXSPORTS Council has run it for several years, because the event struggled to find private sponsors for a few years after the City pulled its backing during the economic downturn and a tight City operating budget.

Catlett reached back out to WOKV Wednesday to say that he had spoken with his staff and learned the JAXSPORTS Council had, in fact, asked the City to take back the event. He says they want to refocus the JAXSPORTS Council on large-scale sports events, and the Light Boat Parade falls outside of that.

He says he doesn’t know if they would have continued running the event, if the City hadn’t taken it back.

“We would have had to take a look at our budget to see if we could afford to do it, if we could continue to do it in line with where we had made a decision to focus on major events,” he says.

A records request for communication this year about the event between the City and the JAXSPORTS Council yielded only a few logistics emails, and one from March confirming the City would be taking over the event, but not saying why. A City Spokesperson says there were verbal discussions about the ownership of the event. WOKV requested an interview with someone involved in those discussions or representative of the Sports and Entertainment office, but we were given the City statement instead.

Regardless of who is hosting it, Catlett says they’re excited the event will continue.

“We could not be happier about the fact that Mayor Curry sees this as a major quality of life event for the citizens of Jacksonville,” he says.

He further says the JAXSPORTS Council and Gator Bowl Sports will continue to work closely with the City on many events.

The Light Boat Parade is being moved back to Thanksgiving weekend this year, which is when it was held for many years while the City was running the event. The JAXSPORTS Council and Gator Bowl Sports moved it to New Year's weekend, as part of the festivities around the annual bowl game, which is now called the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Catlett says the move was the only way they could justify taking over the event to their Board, but he believes the citizens of Jacksonville will be happy to have it back on Thanksgiving weekend.

A City Spokesperson says they do anticipate the event will continue in future years.

The Jacksonville Light Boat Parade will start at 6:30PM on Saturday, November 24th, in Downtown Jacksonville. It will be capped with a fireworks show around  9PM.

The proposed Sports and Entertainment budget will be up for review by the City Council Finance Committee on Thursday. WOKV will be monitoring this discussion, and will continue to update you as we work through the Mayor’s budget proposal to see how your tax dollars are being spent.

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