COLUMBIA — A petition from downtown business owners asking that the Columbia City Council only approve street closures for Ninth Street Summerfest concerts under certain conditions is causing some buzz downtown.
Summerfests have been held occasionally over the past eight years and are sponsored by The Blue Note and its owner, Richard King. Representatives of 21 downtown businesses signed a petition saying that though the events generally are good for the district, they sometimes draw customers away from competing businesses.
The petition originally listed 21 downtown bars and restaurants, but one reversed its position on Wednesday. Room 38 stated in a Facebook post that it no longer wanted to back the petition.
"We agreed to sign the petition originally because the section of requests regarding Summerfest adhering to midweek shows seemed reasonable. After further discussion with Richard personally, we've chosen to decline any further participation in the matter as the majority of the petition was never a concern for us in the first place," the post said.
A copy of the petition was posted on The Blue Note's Facebook page on Friday, the same day it was e-mailed to King.
"I don't see any merit in the petition," King said Thursday. "It doesn't make any sense to me."
The petition was delivered to the council before its Monday meeting. It asked that council members approve Summerfest events only if they are to be held on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday nights and to prohibit any concerts that would require street closures to occur after MU classes start.
The petitioners argued that Summerfest is a boon to downtown primarily when it happens during slow business days.
Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said the council will examine the petitioners' concerns.
He said King has gained an advantage on the market because of his creative business practices.
One other downtown businesses that signed the petition has used social media to clarify its position.
Shakespeare's Pizza manager Kurt Mirtsching said the purpose of the Monday night Facebook post was to present all sides. The post tried to clarify that that it doesn't oppose Summerfests or The Blue Note.
"The real issue is how often and why a private, for-profit business uses public property for private gain," the post stated. "... This petition is part of the process of working out a fair response to a good problem: how to manage a vibrant, exciting, living, growing downtown, in a way that is a equitable as it can be."
Mirtsching said Shakespeare's has no plans to change its position.
"Summerfest adds a lot of charm, culture and positive things to the city," he said. "It has elements people are in favor of, it has elements people are opposed to. An open dialogue will lay all the cards on the table, and City Council can ultimately decide what's best for downtown Columbia."
Mirtsching added that the petition promotes conversation about the competitive nature of owning a business in downtown Columbia.
"We'd like to be the only bar or restaurant in town, but there are going to be others. Summerfest is just one more,"Mirtsching said.
King said he was not included in any discussion about the petitioning businesses' concerns.
The petition lists Julie Rader, owner of Bengal's Bar and Grill, and Tom Atkinson, owner of Shiloh Bar and Grill, as contacts.
Rader declined to comment on the record about the petition. Atkinson failed to return multiple phone calls about it.
Rader also opposed a request by Harpo's last year to close a section of Cherry Street after MU home football games, according to minutes of an Aug. 2, 2010, meeting of the council. She argued that the council should reserve street closures for special events intended to draw people downtown at times when they might not otherwise visit the business district. That stance is consistent with the one presented in the recent petition.
The council rejected Harpo's request. Some members said roping off an area for bar patrons wasn't a cultural event. Others said it would lead to a barrage of requests for other businesses to close streets for partiers.
Harpo's owners were not among those who signed the recent petition.
The Downtown Community Improvement District Board of Directors has taken no position on the issue. Its next meeting is July 12.
King said that when he organizes the Summerfests, he has little control over the days and dates artists will come.
"I don't tell them how it works. They tell me," he said.
King added that he often is competing with other venues in St. Louis, Kansas City or other cities.
The council at its May 2 meeting approved King's request to close a section of Ninth Street for Summerfests on June 9 and June 24 and another event on July 14.
The June 9 Summerfest featured Toots and the Maytals as headliners. The concert series continues Friday with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Gates will open at 6 p.m.
The July 14 event is not associated with Summerfest. The ticketed outdoor concert will feature Darius Rucker.
King said he has considered relocating Summerfest to prevent street closures.
"I'm always exploring my options," he said.