GEORGE KENNEDY: Tiger Town is a flawed concept

Thursday, June 28, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:43 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 14, 2012

It’s my birthday, and I have a present for you. Just be patient for a few paragraphs.

First, I want to comment belatedly on a decision already, and unfortunately, made. That’s Tiger Town, the closed-off street of beer tents and other attractions intended to lure visiting football fans away from their tailgates and into downtown this fall.

I won’t quibble with the concept, although I doubt we’ll compete very impressively with the legendary Grove at Ole Miss or those customized railroad cars parked just outside the stadium in the other Columbia, the one in South Carolina. The less said the better about the citywide party that is Baton Rouge on game day. Still, there’s no harm trying.

The mistake I’m afraid Tiger Town promoters are making is the classic one of thinking too small. For one thing, the plan as outlined calls for just four hours of festivities that will end when the football games begin. Why so early and so short? If television dictates an 11 a.m. kickoff, as surely it will some Saturdays, the beer tents would open at 7 a.m. and be gone by the time the winners want to celebrate and the losers want to drown their sorrow.

The bigger flaw, it seems to me, is the location. Eighth Street between Elm and Broadway? Nothing against the street itself, you understand. It’s anchored on the south by my favorite morning newspaper and on the north by the institution where I bank. But those and the other businesses along what the signs insist is the Avenue of the Columns don’t exactly convey a party-time image.

Maybe the Missourian will erect a tent to peddle its tasteful T-shirts and nostalgic replica front pages. Perhaps the Boone County Bank can offer sidewalk loans or investment opportunities for winners of those bets the NCAA frowns on. But probably not.

Much as it pains me, I admit that Hank Waters had a much better idea. He argued in the Columbia Daily Tribune that we really have a Tiger Town already. Ninth Street and Broadway are its axis. If the goal is lucrative downtown frivolity, why not close the streets to cars, ease the rules on open containers and let the good times roll before, after and even during the games?

Among other things, that would have eliminated the painful necessity of deciding who gets to supply the goodies in the tents. The broader approach would also have allowed the money that will have to be spent creating a fake Tiger Town to be used instead for extensive promotion of the existing one.

Hank’s is no doubt the loudest, or at least the most pervasive, voice in our journalistic cacophony. The fact that his proposal was promptly ignored by our downtown decision makers should suggest just how limited the power of the press is.

The power of the dollar will no doubt prevail, as it usually does. If Eighth Street turns out to be crowded with free-spending Georgians on the morning of Sept. 8, I’ll have been proven wrong again. At least this time I’ll be in good company.

And now, about that birthday present: My gift to you is a few weeks of silence. I’m headed north in search of the cool weather that must exist somewhere. With any luck, I’ll be back well before those Georgians arrive.

No need to thank me.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Ellis Smith June 28, 2012 | 11:12 a.m.

You can have boiled peanuts with your beer in the "other" Columbia. Will they be available here? Hopefully, the Missourian will take some photos of Tiger fans with the slimy stuff running down their chins.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders June 28, 2012 | 11:18 a.m.

Weird, I don't know if I've ever agreed with both Hank and George before...

My guess is that the Tiger Town promoters would like to have the scenario you describe, yet have taken the pragmatic political road known as "baby-steps." With any potential outcome of the current design (over-crowded/under-crowded success/failure) someone will use it as a reason that it has to be expanded. The only reason not to is the "tent monopoly" mentioned.

As always, time will tell.

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