Charter schools, business improvement districts, Thanksgiving turkeys and now the Mummers — the shadow cast by the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods’ umbrella continues to expand.
On Monday, WPHL-TV (Channel 17) and the Mummers announced that a contract had been negotiated to televise the annual New Year’s Day parade. Key to the deal was a commitment from Citizens Alliance to pay for the production costs to broadcast the parade.
Ken Snyder, the Alliance’s spokesperson, estimated the bill would be $250,000.
With the parade just three weeks away, it had looked from the outside like the Mummers would be off the air for the first time in decades — but behind the scenes was Citizens Alliance with checkbook in hand.
"We think that the Mummers are a cultural icon in Philadelphia and many thousands of Philadelphians participate in the festivities every year," Snyder said. "It is an important tradition and has economic impact for the region."
Bill Patterson, president of the Mummers Association, which represents the Comics, Fancies and string bands, said he was doubtful the parade would have aired without the Alliance’s help.
And without the television exposure, Patterson added, much of the Mummers’ efforts to market the parade would have been wasted.
"If we missed a year [on television], that might have hurt our chances to sell for next year," he said. "It would have given the impression that we were difficult to deal with or that no one wanted it."
Citizens Alliance is a nonprofit organization founded in the early 1990s by state Sen. Vincent Fumo and City Councilman Frank DiCicco, who worked as an aide for the senator at the time. It was created to help neighborhood groups — everything from townwatch organizations to park caretakers to business associations — get the funds to tackle pet projects when city and state money was not available.
In its early years, the organization was most recognized for helping with quality-of-life problems like cleaning the streets, picking up garbage, repairing alley lights and trimming trees.
Today, Citizens Alliance is still run from Fumo’s office at 12th and Federal streets and is behind bigger and more expensive initiatives, like the Christopher Columbus Charter School and the Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District.
Citizens Alliance has $25 million in assets and last year received an $11-million cash donation from an anonymous benefactor.
The nonprofit had been involved in Mummers Parade negotiations less than a month, said Snyder. When talks began, the Mummers were working on a deal with WHYY-TV (Channel 12), he said, but that deal fell through because the public broadcast station could not cover any of the production costs by selling commercials.
Channel 17 had broadcast the last nine New Year’s Day events. Its contract with the Mummers expired last winter.
The Comics, Fancies and string bands will strut on South Broad Street for the first time since 1999. The last four parades have been held on Market Street. The Fancy Brigades will not march with the other three divisions because of their two shows scheduled at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
A condition of Citizens Alliance’s grant was that WPHL televise the Broad Street and Convention Center portions of the parade. That had been somewhat of a sticking point during negotiations.
Asked if Citizens Alliance would have offered the same money had the parade remained in Center City, Snyder said, "We feel that it is important for the city and region that it be televised. We’re not going to take a position on its location. We are pleased it is where it is."
Parade organizers now are focusing on how to pack South Broad with spectators.
Councilman DiCicco said last week that Tolentine Recreation Center has agreed to open the armory on the 1200 block of South Broad Street to spectators during the parade.
The building will be "a place where people can go and get comfortable if they want to get in from the weather," complete with food for sale. DiCicco said the city is close to finalizing a deal with food vendors who will have stands along the parade route and also inside the armory.
The councilman also wants to invite South Philly eateries to sell food inside the armory, but said it may be too late to make those arrangements this year. Meanwhile, with city managing director Phil Goldsmith, he has arranged for the setup of bleachers outside the armory.
DiCicco suggested creating venues like this on Broad Street several years ago, believing it would generate more crowds in those areas. Parade officials tried to do it on Market Street using hotel lobbies, but it never caught on.
The size of the crowds won’t necessarily determine the success of the Mummers’ return to Broad Street, DiCicco said; rather, it’s whether or not the spectators have a good time.
"What I want to see out there is a fairly decent crowd that enjoys the changes that have been made," he said. "If they enjoy it, they will tell their friends, and their friends will tell their friends, and more people will come back to the parade."