GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Grand Rapids will get in on the St. Patrick's Day fun a little early this year. The 4th annual Irish on Ionia Celebration is happening Saturday March 15. The event, which started in a small parking lot adjacent to McFadden's its inaugural year, has grown into the biggest St. Patrick's Day celebration in the city.
"We grew from 1,000 in 2011 to expected numbers being around 20,000 this year," said Shane Philipsen, event director for BarFly Ventures. "It has grown over capacity. The city of Grand Rapids loves this party."
People have even more to love this year. Irish on Ionia has expanded to Fulton, adding about a block and a half of extra party space. Organizers will fill the space with a food pavilion, with new restaurants as vendors. There will also be two stages this year; one will be a DJ stage playing music all day, the other will have live entertainment featuring Celtic bands. Irish on Ionia organizers have also expanded the liquor bar and added a tent focused on Michigan Craft beer.
Philipsen says Irish on Ionia "is in Grand Rapids, Beer City USA. Grand Rapids has been known to through really good, safe events that have pretty much everything that somebody needs. With that in mind, Irish on Ionia is in its fourth year, so we built it up."
Also new this year are efforts to be environmentally green for St. Patrick's Day. Cups handed out appear to be plastic but are actually a bio-plastic made of corn. They are 100% compostable.
"That will actually allow them to go in one of the many lime green New Soil compost bins that will be stationed throughout the event. That means a New Soil truck will be able to pick them up and take them to a compost facility in Zeeland where they will become nutrient rich soil," said Brian Smith a sustainability expert working with the festival.
Last year 70 tons of trash were left behind after the festival. Organizers hope to limit the amount of disposable trash further by placing signs reading 'Keep your cup we will fill it up.'
"We will take it back and refill a beer," said Smith hoping this will encourage zero waste efforts.
Irish on Ionia starts at 7 a.m. Saturday with the annual Kegs and Eggs breakfast buffet at McFadden's. Philipsen is expecting another successful year.
"With Spring right ahead of us, the weather hasn't been so great, this will be the weekend that people are going to kick Spring into gear," he said.