COLUMBIA — Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ's new location at Stephens Lake Park provides a more spacious atmosphere for people once they are at the festival, but getting there will be a bigger issue than in years past.
The previous downtown location provided easy access for festivalgoers with abundant downtown parking, but parking at the new location will be more limited.
To alleviate the parking situation, rented school buses will shuttle fans from downtown garages and five hotels to the park, but festival organizers and city staff disagreed on where to drop people off.
The Columbia City Council on Monday night sided with Thumper Entertainment officials, who want the drop-off to be at the Reichmann parking lot on East Walnut Street.
"We want to have a safe experience," president of Thumper Entertainment Betsy Farris said, "but we also want to be in the customer service business. It's important that our fans are dropped off safely at the festival entrance."
The city's Special Event Committee preferred a drop-off location on Old 63 to limit traffic on East Walnut Street. Should any problems arise in the surrounding neighborhood during the festival, committee members worried that increased traffic on East Walnut Street could slow emergency vehicles from serving the mix of 220 homes and businesses.
The walk from Old 63 to the festival site would require a four-tenths of a mile walk around Stephens Lake to the festival entrance, according to a report to the City Council.
At Monday night's meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe of the Sixth Ward said an influx of 10,000 festivalgoers walking back and forth on the trail by the lake could disturb other people using the park.
The staff is commendably looking at safety, "but too much in this particular instance," Hoppe said.
The City Council unanimously approved the festival plan because organizers have promised to direct traffic at the intersection of Old 63 and East Walnut Street.
"The only people allowed to travel into the neighborhood will be residents who will have a flier displayed in their window," Farris said.
Mayor Bob McDavid told the council he has "deep respect for this iconic event" but felt that it was a lost opportunity to market and get people to use Columbia Transit for the first time.
"I'm disappointed that we will have rented school buses while we have empty FastCAT buses driving around Columbia," McDavid said.
Since fans are accustomed to parking downtown for previous festivals, organizers think they will use the shuttles, Farris said.
"We have had our eyes on the park for more than three years," she said. "We just want to make sure that when the fans come they have a good, safe experience."