The Central Columbia Association is thrilled that the Twilight Festival is drawing record crowds. But the voluntary merchants’ association is not thrilled that the Columbia City Council is considering a resolution to close a two-block stretch of one road because of safety concerns.
At Monday’s meeting, the Columbia City Council directed city staff to draft a resolution to close Ninth Street between Broadway and Walnut Street during the first two weeks of the September Twilight Festival. The decision followed discussion of a report submitted to the council by the CCA that outlines methods used to provide the public with safe, accessible festival activities. The report also lists the reasons why the board of the CCA does not support festival street closures.
The CCA board said blocking streets would discourage customers from visiting businesses before the festival begins. Parking is prohibited 24 hours in advance of a street closure. In addition, the board suggested that blocking streets would benefit some businesses at the expense of others by keeping festival crowds in one central area.
“Rather than concentrate in one area, why don’t we just spread out?” said Carrie Gartner, director of the Central Columbia Association.
Festival a big hit
Attendance and revenues for the June 2004 Twilight Festival set record highs. The CCA reported that the combined attendance for the four festival nights was 42,000 with revenues topping $2 million.
Instead of closing streets, the CCA recommended that the festival continue to expand to reduce crowding. It said expansion would benefit businesses in other parts of the district.
“When crowds started getting larger, we added new areas in front of the courthouse. This year, we opened the festival to Flat Branch Park,” Gartner said. “Last year, a couple nights topped 10,000, and this year a couple topped 11,000 people. I really think it’s because we opened the park.”
Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash agreed with the CCA that the street closures would prevent the spread of festival activities throughout downtown. Ash also owns Bambino’s Italian Restaurant, which would not be included in the closed-off area.
“Before trying a street closure, let’s try spreading the people out more by moving the scheduled artists and musicians off of Ninth and Broadway and giving the CCA or the police department more authority to ask unauthorized groups to move to different, less crowded locations in the interest of public safety,” Ash said.
Open streets for safety
The CCA report also recommended that streets remain open for emergency vehicle access and public parking.
Mayor Darwin Hindman and Fifth Ward Councilman John John supported the street closures and expressed concern for pedestrian safety on the crowded open streets.
“I am for closing the street on a trial basis,” Hindman said. “The sidewalks are very crowded now. People would enjoy it better if stands could be moved out into the street.”
The City Council will discuss the street closing issue again when the resolution for a trial street closure in September has been prepared.
“The council has been wanting to give street closures during Twilight Festival a try for some time,” Ash said. “At a previous council meeting, Mr. John brought this issue up again and I asked that before we move forward with his proposal, we ask for a report from the CCA getting their thoughts on this subject since it is the downtown merchants who pay for the Twilight Festival in an attempt to bring more business downtown.”