COLUMBIA — Restaurants, bars and retailers in downtown Columbia are aiming to capitalize on MU’s switch to the Southeastern Conference.
A meeting of the Downtown Community Improvement District was held Tuesday in which a plan was unveiled to create a 'fan zone' downtown to attract fans during football weekends.
"The SEC is a conference that travels," Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said Tuesday morning. "And we want to try and tap into that."
The planned area, called "Tiger Town," seeks to further link the downtown business community with MU’s sports culture and add revenue in the process.
Gartner estimates that seven thousand or eight thousand fans will come into town on SEC weekends in support of the opposing team. And downtown businesses are looking to draw in the visitors.
Columbia businessmen Rick Means, Bob Gerding and Greg Steinhoff prepared to give the initial presentation of the "Tiger Town" plan in a crowded meeting space at the Downtown Community Improvement District offices on South Tenth Street.
Members of the audience introduced themselves while a slide reading "New Traditions" was projected against the wall. The audience consisted of bar and restaurant owners, retail shop owners, local contractors, representatives of the Columbia Police Department, property owners and concerned citizens. There were no representatives from MU or its athletic department at the meeting.
The three men delivered a slideshow presentation outlining their proposal to create an area that fans could congregate downtown and then be ushered to the game.
Buses. Shuttles. Tractor-pulled trams. Gold-coated ambassadors greeting people and pointing the way. Bannered walkways. Painted streets forming a trail, perhaps yellow and black. All of these ideas were discussed during the meeting.
Details on issues such as street closures, open container laws and even the boundaries of the area that would be deemed "Tiger Town" remain undetermined. What's clear is that Means, Gerding and Steinhoff want to reshape football weekends to focus more on the downtown business district.
"Our goal is to deliver the message that there is something new going on," Steinhoff said.
"Refreshing, if you will, the traditions that we have," Gerding said later.
The model for "Tiger Town" has its roots in the traditions of other college towns. Means, Gerding and Steinhoff pointed to towns like Norman, Okla., Austin, Texas, and Oxford, Miss., where downtown businesses have been able to profit from visiting football fans.
A super-committee has been planned to bring city officials, local business proponents and university representatives together to discuss the feasibility of such plans.