Uptown Charlotte stands to lose its Thanksgiving Day parade next year, because the nonprofit organization that sponsors it says it doesn’t have the money to continue the event.
Carolinas’ Carrousel Inc. has put on the annual parade since 1947 but announced Wednesday that it lacks sponsorship needed to put on the 2013 event.
Also at risk is the group’s scholarship program, which annually awards eight area students with college scholarships, according to Linda Healy Vespa, the executive director of Carolinas’ Carrousel.
The group finds itself with money issues after a $75,000 contract with Belk expired after the 2012 parade, organization officials said.
“Belk told us before last year’s parade that they would not renew, but we didn’t want to dwell on that with the parade coming up,” Vespa said. “We hoped that … people would be stepping up but we realized that would not be the case.”
Carolinas’ Carrousel says it must find about $125,000 in sponsorship money by April 30 if the parade is to continue. The group can pay for about $12,000 worth of student scholarships in 2013 but will need money to continue that program past next year, Vespa said.
Organization officials were surprised when Belk decided to end its sponsorship and had even been planning to ask the retail company to increase its contributions for the parade.
Belk spokeswoman Jessica Graham said the decision came in part as the company focuses its charity on Belk-specific efforts, such as the Belk Mobile Mammography Center.
“We certainly think very highly of the parade and value what it does for the community,” Graham said.
Belk has been the title sponsor for the parade for the past three years, but it has helped finance it in some capacity since it began, Vespa said.
She estimated the nonprofit’s annual budget usually falls between $150,000 and $200,000 but didn’t know how much Carolinas’ Carrousel spent on the parade off the top of her head.
The organization’s 2011 tax documents show it spent a little more than $72,000 of its $161,983 budget on the parade.
Vespa, the group’s only paid employee, made $50,000 that year, the records show. She declined to comment on her salary, other than to say that it hasn’t increased in the five years she’s served as the executive director.
The group paid $12,850 in scholarship money to local students in 2011, the documents show.
Jeff Collins, president of the Carolinas’ Carrousel board, said in a Wednesday news release that the nonprofit still has support from other local sponsors, including Autobell Car Wash, Piedmont Natural Gas and CPI Security Systems.
“Carrousel has been an important tradition in this region for decades,” said Collins. “Unfortunately, times have changed and corporate and community support for our efforts is not what it once was.”
“We are very disappointed that the parade and the scholarship program may not go on, but without an influx of funds we simply cannot continue.”
The parade celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2012 and, with a draw of about 100,000 spectators, was included in U.S. News and World Report’s 2012 list of best Thanksgiving Day parades.
Steele: 704-358-5067 on Twitter: @steelecs
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