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Companies turn down Thanksgiving parade to focus on own charitable causes

Leaders of the nonprofit group that produces Charlotte’s now-canceled Thanksgiving Day parade say they will try to bring it back in 2014.

But at least one of the group’s board members believes the $75,000 price tag on the title sponsorship scares some corporations away. Two major local corporations that were asked to sponsor the parade said they wanted to focus on their own internally driven charitable efforts.

Carolinas’ Carrousel, the parade’s organizer since 1947, said last week that it can’t find sufficient sponsorship support and will have to cancel this year’s parade.

Belk, the parade’s title sponsor for several years, notified the Carrousel group last year that it wouldn’t be renewing its sponsorship.

Bob Bollinger, an attorney who serves on the Carrousel board, said the group’s board members and its former director, Linda Healy Vespa, have been approaching companies in search of a new title sponsor, but to no avail.

“The biggest problem I’m aware of (in) sponsoring the event was a big chunk of money,” he said.

“That was my sense of it … the amount of money seemed to be a little intimidating” for companies.

Bollinger added that some companies might feel they can gain publicity more effectively other than through a parade sponsorship.

“You get some good will” as parade sponsor, he said, “but would you get more from $75,000 worth of TV commercials?”

Belk spokeswoman Jessica Graham said the department store chain didn’t end its sponsorship deal because of the cost.

She said the company wanted to aim its community spending toward other projects, including its mobile mammography van, the Belk Bowl football game and providing technology grants to schoolchildren.

“We just wanted to invest more heavily in Belk-branded and Belk-led initiatives,” she said.

Danna Jones, a spokeswoman for Harris Teeter, said the grocery chain has been approached about sponsoring the parade but declined because the parade’s work raising money for student scholarships echoes the company’s existing focus on education.

Harris Teeter has donated more than $19 million to area schools through its Together in Education program, Jones said. The program uses parents’ customer loyalty cards to funnel money to their children’s schools.

“The company has chosen to support education through its Together in Education program,” she said. “We want to remain focused on strengthening this program.”

Vespa, who no longer works for Carrousel, declined to comment about the group’s fundraising efforts. She said in an email that board members have instructed her to refer reporters’ questions to the group’s Friday press release about the parade cancellation.

Board chairman Jeff Collins couldn’t be reached for comment.

Center City Partners, the uptown Charlotte economic development group, said it has been working with the Carrousel board members, trying to help them save the parade.

“This is a rich Charlotte holiday tradition and we share the disappointment with all of Charlotte and the region to have the parade suspended,” Center City Partners President Michael Smith said.

“We stand ready to support them in 2014 when they attempt to recapitalize the parade with new sponsors.”

Frazier: 704-358-5145; @ericfraz on Twitter
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