New downtown gathering place in the works for football season

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 | 8:01 p.m. CST

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.

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Corey Parks January 10, 2012 | 9:36 p.m.

The best area for this is already filled with a GIANT church and a bunch of little shops. Now if the city was really serious about this they would force these stores out and onto other streets and open up bars and the kind of restaurants football fans want to go to. I do not see this happened and would not want it to happen. Didn't Harpo's get denied numerous times to have a similar atmosphere set up during home games and the city declined it?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 10, 2012 | 9:48 p.m.

Acres of metered parking. Higher parking fees and fines. Bus fares going up. A new downtown sales tax.

Welcome to the real Tiger Town. Just don't tell Garagezilla.

(Parking in downtown Oxford is free, btw. And so is bus service for Ole Miss students and faculty. And the city provides a game day shuttle from a free parking area. Do we?)

(Report Comment)
Cole Kennedy January 12, 2012 | 1:21 p.m.

I think we should focus on boosting the tailgate atmosphere around the stadium more than creating a contrived festival in the middle of an urban district a full 20 minute walk from the stadium.

(Report Comment)
John Schmidt January 12, 2012 | 1:42 p.m.

Because we know that true sports fans are averse to exercise of any kind.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks January 12, 2012 | 2:32 p.m.

Well the University pretty much has a lock on any parking around the stadium for up to 20 minutes of walking. In College athletics these days you have to pay to play and I am talking about the fans not the athletes or boosters.

(Report Comment)

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