Game-day requests have downtown leaders rethinking street closures

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 | 11:56 a.m. CDT; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 8, 2013

COLUMBIA — The future of downtown Columbia landscape on SEC football game days remains uncertain.

Several weeks ago, eight downtown businesses filed requests to shut off streets and waive open container restrictions on home football game days. All of those requests were denied by the Columbia City Council, citing a variety of issues including compliance with ordinances and public safety issues.

The Downtown Community Improvement District is talking to the council about changes in the application that would address these issues and make the process easier and clearer for business owners and the city.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, co-owner of Harpo's, filed one of the first special event and street closure requests this school year. Fitzpatrick supports creating a festival atmosphere downtown on football game days for fans, and he sees it as an opportunity for the city to generate additional tax revenue.

"What we're afraid of is the University of Missouri is going to go down to The Grove at Ole Miss and say why don't we do this on the Quadrangle," Fitzpatrick said. "Then all that business leaves downtown and plops itself on the Quadrangle. The university gets the benefit, and no, they don't pay sales taxes."

Though Bengal's also applied for special events on home game days, co-owner Julie Rader said downtown Columbia is already a destination for fans without street closures.

"I don't think any kind of street closure on home football weekends will ever be in order, ever," Rader said.

The current special event application is a one-page document that only asks for basic event information and the applicant’s contact and insurance information. The new application would be more of a "checklist" and would address all the components that come with putting on a special event, such as ADA compliance, trash and tent permits.

"All these rules scattered throughout city ordinances, and unless you ask someone, you don’t know where to find them," Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District, said.

It is these rules and ordinances that many previous applicants weren’t taking into consideration.

"When filling out this application with multiple pages, you will all of the sudden realize, maybe we're not equipped to run a proper event," Gartner said. "This is also a way to really let people stop and say, 'Hey, do I really want to do this event and am I really able to?' That might cut down on the number of applications."

The high number of applications has been a factor in making these kinds of events equitable.

"It isn't fair to let anybody mess with street closures during home football weekend because not everybody is going to be able to do that at any one time," Rader said. "You have to ask is it fair to let one person do this. Think about the establishments off Broadway. They are not going to allow you to close half of Broadway."

Room 38 was another one of the bars included in the initial wave of special event applications. Owner Billy Giordano said he doesn't have a big stake in the outcome either way, but that order needs to be brought to the process.

"The way that it has gone about is backwards," Giordano said. "No one knows what is going on, and there aren't regulations."

Another change in the application process would be the due date. Currently, business owners are required to submit their application 10 days in advance of the event. The new process would require the application to be submitted 60 days ahead of time.

"Ten days doesn’t allow enough time for the city's Special Event Committee to carefully review the requests," Carol Rhodes, assistant city manager, said. "Applications received 60 days prior to the event will provide us more time to work through the logistics with event organizers prior to them going to the CID and City Council for approval."

Rhodes said these kind of events can be positive for downtown.

"Special events support the vision statement for downtown. Downtown Columbia is a hip and vibrant district with a diversity of easily accessible businesses, residences, attractions and institutions; it is a gathering place for all types of people," Rhodes said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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