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Merging parades among several big changes

Money challenges prompt the moves

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Big changes are in store for the St. Paul Winter Carnival, a tribute to traditions dating back to 1886.

The annual celebration of winter plans to merge its traditional two parades -- the Grande Day and Torchlight processions -- into one, bigger "day-into-night" parade.

Carnival organizers also plan a less elaborate ceremony to crown King Boreas and the Queen of the Snows. Some activities will shift to Harriet Island, which will become the carnival's headquarters.

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The retooled January festival comes in response to financial challenges, a desire to broaden the festival's audience and even global warming.

"We're going to tweak it so it matters to the entire community," said Kate Kelly, president and CEO of the St. Paul Festival and Heritage Foundation, producers of the carnival.

But organizers expect to hear some complaints. "We're going to have some folks who are not happy," Kelly admits.

The carnival's 22-member board decided on the changes in July and will present them to festival volunteers this week. Festivities will take place Jan. 26 to Feb. 4.

Organizers promise fresh energy from new activities at Harriet Island.

Such events include a giant ice maze, a global-warming "weather station," an attempt to build the world's largest snow sculpture and a massive winter-survival campout for Boy Scouts guided by polar explorer Will Steger.

The festival was motivated to take a new direction in part by a money crunch, Kelly said. Last winter, in Kelly's first year at the helm of the organization, the event lost about $43,000 on a $1 million budget.

Still, insiders consider that an improvement; the prior year, it came up short by about $160,000.

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But just as significant, planners and observers say, is the need to capture a larger, younger and more diverse crowd that better reflects the community.

"The tradition is what makes it rich, but sometimes that tradition gets so overpowering that it's not inviting," said Brad Toll, vice president of marketing for the St. Paul RiverCentre Convention and Visitors Authority.

Parades have been a hallmark of the carnival for its 120-year history.

The Grande Day procession, held early in the festival, featured floats and figures celebrating the legend of Boreas, the ice king, and his royal family.

A week later, the carnival wraps up with the evening Torchlight parade and the Vulcan Krewe's dethroning of Boreas -- a victory symbolizing the coming of spring.

Early reaction to merging the two processions has been "not good," said John Moore, a volunteer who heads the carnival's parade committee.

"I think people understand it's a financial thing, and it will carry on, and no one will lose any sleep over it," Moore said. "But it was a tradition, and it's going by the wayside."

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