Rose Parade will survive another year after $20,000 gift from Ratto Group founder Jim Ratto

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The Rose Parade will live on another year.

James Ratto, founder of Santa Rosa-based Ratto Group of Companies, has come through once again with enough funds to ensure the city’s venerable Rose Parade through downtown Santa Rosa has enough funds to continue after it celebrates its 125th anniversary on May 18.

Judy Groverman Walker, manager of the Luther Burbank Rose Parade, said the Ratto Group contacted her Friday to inform her its founder would be cutting a $20,000 check to cover the parade’s financial shortfall this year.

In 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, Ratto also came through with a last-minute donation of $20,000. That gift, along with others, helped close the budget gap.

The parade, which usually draws more than 100 participants and between 12,000 to 15,000 spectators, costs about $93,000 to stage, Walker said.

Contributions to the parade have been smaller since the 2017 wildfires and recent floods, possibly because some view the event as less essential than post-disaster needs in the community, Walker said.

“There are other things that become more pressing when times are tough,” Walker said. “But it’s really important to have that sense of community and to come together to celebrate what we do have that’s positive.”

Rick Powell, the Ratto Group’s general manager, said James Ratto has donated to the Rose Parade for many years. He said Ratto read a story in The Press Democrat on Monday about the parade’s financial straits and the possibility that it would not return next year.

“The first thing he did was say, ‘Hey we need to help them out,’” Powell said.

Last year, the Ratto Group sold its garbage hauling and recycling operations to San Francisco- based Recology. The Ratto Group’s operations now center on real estate investment and property management, Powell said.

Walker said the funds allow the nonprofit parade to pay this year’s bills but unless a more stable funding source is found, “we’re going to have this problem every year.”

Last year, parade organizers dipped into reserves to cover the event and perennial budget shortfalls are forcing them to begin attracting sponsorships earlier and earlier.

“If we use everything we have to put this parade on, we will have no startup money, paying for deposits on items, coordination,” Walker said. “We can’t just start with nothing, because sponsorships don’t usually start until January.”

For now, the parade continues, Walker said.

“After 125 years, I don’t think anybody really wants to see it go away,” she said.

The 2019 parade grand marshal is community booster, volunteer and philanthropist Al Maggini, who turns 104 this year. For more information on how to support the parade and festival, check out roseparadefestival.com or call 707-837-1928.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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