Twilight Festival ending after 19 years

Monday, August 25, 2008 | 9:17 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Despite attendance numbers soaring to 11,000 people per night and a proven record of economic success, the Twilight Festival will be discontinued following the final event this September. The end of the festival comes after a two-year evaluation by the group that created it.

For 19 years, downtown Columbia has been home to the Twilight Festival every Thursday night in June and September. Originally started as a project of the Central Columbia Association to bring more people downtown, the event has become a strain on its organizers.

"It eats up a huge amount of resources, and the question became, ‘Is it valuable?'" said Carrie Gartner, executive director for the Columbia Special Business District and coordinator of the Twilight Festival.

The Special Business District is a city organization funded by a sales tax on businesses and properties located within The District, and it has only two staff members: Gartner and assistant director Erika Kubsch. The CCA is a separate, non-profit merchant association that is staffed by the same two District employees who volunteer their time to the organization.

Gartner and Kubsch have been the only two people charged with orchestrating the Twilight Festival.

"I think that was one of the big things," CCA Board President Kurt Mirtsching said. "(Twilight Festival) took the resources that could be better used elsewhere."

The $45,000 budget for the festival comes from merchant donations, grants and sponsorships, most of which were generated by Gartner and Kubsch. For the two women, their responsibilities to the SBD - such as beautification, business recruitment, economic development and historic preservation - take a back burner during festival months.

"We do have to pull back on other areas in order to make the festival happen," Gartner said.

Board members have been trying since 2007 to survey the more than 100 members of the CCA within The District to gauge how the association's board should vote on the future of the Twilight Festival, Mirtsching said. He said the group received back "only a fraction" of the written questionnaires it put out. They also conducted two town-hall style meetings where the participants expressed mixed opinions about keeping the festival going.

"Some folks - most bars and restaurants - did pretty decent business (during the festivals)," CCA board member Richard King said. "Most retail places were just so-so."

Specific data about economic impact of the Thursday night events were not presented at any of the monthly CCA board meetings, King said, but a lot of input was provided by board members who shared the results of many months of informal surveys from downtown businesses.

"Some of the shopkeepers saw their business go down a little bit, because (the crowds) would keep their regular customers away," Mirtsching said.

The final decision to discontinue the Twilight Festival was not entirely due to the economics, Gartner said; the influx of other events taking place downtown showed the CCA that "the event had outgrown its usefulness," King said. Gartner said at least 14 new events had been established downtown since the Twilight Festival was created in 1989, when very little was happening to encourage commerce in The District.

"What it boiled down to was downtown is a different place now than it was 19 years ago and there's a lot of other things going on," Mirtsching said. "It's not like downtown is going to dry up and blow away if we don't have Twilight Festival."


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Charles Dudley Jr August 25, 2008 | 9:24 p.m.

My question is though what do you as the leaders who ran the Twilight Festival for 2 decades propose to ask others to step up and put in it's place?

(Report Comment)
Jarrod Turner August 25, 2008 | 9:31 p.m.

I think it's crap that they're canceling the festival! I really dug going to it even when I wasn't in a band playing music there! Too bad they don't have more local concert series in Peace Park or something!

(Report Comment)
Todd Menefee August 26, 2008 | 9:14 a.m.

I think it is unfortunate that the Twilight Festival wasn't more beneficial to local business. What I will miss most are the local bands playing on the sidewalks. The Festival gave a unique opportunity for Columbians to see talent that might otherwise go unseen.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 26, 2008 | 9:49 p.m.

----"What it boiled down to was downtown is a different place now than it was 19 years ago and there's a lot of other things going on," Mirtsching said. "It's not like downtown is going to dry up and blow away if we don't have Twilight Festival."----

There were 2 events I enjoyed. The 19 year old Twilight Festival and the new roots 'n blues event. Maybe downtown will dry up and blow away if everyone who enjoyed (and will miss) "Twilight Fest" stays away from the "District" and its elitist mentality. Just boycott the restaurants, bars and merchants until they get the message that "good-will" goes a long way in our town. (Sorry Artie, but Cool Stuff just ain't cool anymore.)

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 27, 2008 | 5:23 a.m.

I agree with you ray a citizen boycott would send the message for sure. I love to go down town but if they are not going to provide more activities then why spend my money down there when I can take it to other businesses that will appreciate it more. Time will tell how this effects all citizens of Columbia and how they really feel.

(Report Comment)
Becky Smith August 27, 2008 | 10:01 a.m.

Are you kidding me? You think the Applebee's corporation appreciates your business more? Or the Gap? Or Wal-Mart?

Feeding the corporate monsters because you are unable shop local merchants when they aren't providing "activities" for you is the worst reasoning I have ever heard.

(Report Comment)
Amber Hanneken August 27, 2008 | 1:49 p.m.

"Corporate monsters" or not they get my business. I do eat downtown but I don't shop there because everything is really expensive and a lot of the shops seem to cater to some kind of elite or subculture that I am not a part of.
I guess time will tell whether getting rid of the Twilight Festival will bring in more business or lose it.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro August 27, 2008 | 7:21 p.m.

Hey Becky--I noticed that this is your first comment to appear on the Missourian. I'm new myself, but I've put my "2-cents" in a few times already. Is this your first time because you have some business interest in and around the "District?" If not, may I suggest some nice restaurants, coffee shops and small businesses south of town and elsewhere if you really want to make a statement or even care about the loss of our town's Twilight Festival. -Ray.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 18, 2010 | 9:20 p.m.

@John Shultz:
Here's one that I know is from August, 2008, and today it's as pertinent as ever.
1. The ending of the family-friendly Twilight Festival is indicative of the greed and lack of goodwill extended by most of "The District's" elite.
2. For the longest time I could remember, the main events took place in the courthouse circle, where just a few teenagers would congregate under the trees near the bell area.
3. When great minds decided to move the main event to the street where Glen's Cafe used to be, instead of capturing enough Thursday night customers to satisfy their wallets, the businesses caused those teens to move into the Twilight Festival streets and mix among the "more desirable" parent-escorted youngsters and couples.
3. By creating another competitive Twilight Festival Thursday night venue, at Flat Branch Park, "they" created a "dead zone" between the 9th Street activities and Flat Branch Park.
4. This is the same folks who want to put up surveillance cameras to boost "The District" as a safe place and encourage shoppers at the expense of the general city fund?
A. Goodwill may not generate gigantic revenue up front, however people appreciate it, remember it and would've returned during non-Twilight Festival times to shop.
B. This was an obvious disconnect as to their ability to handle unescorted teens downtown.
C. What makes anyone think "they" now have the right approach with McDavid, Kespohl and Dudley in the palm of their hands?
D. I like Sid Sullivan, Karl Skala and Tracy Greever-Rice.

(Report Comment)

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