A shift in philosophy will result in closing sections of Ninth and Fourth streets during this summer’s Twilight Festival, a move intended to increase safety and further promote local businesses.
The Central Columbia Association won the approval of the City Council to close the streets during the festivals, which are scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. each Thursday in June and September. While several merchants with the association have been requesting street closures during the festival for years, the group in general was hesitant.
“We had a couple concerns,” said Carrie Gartner, director of CCA. “Our goal was that we didn’t harm other areas of downtown and create a bottleneck in one area.”
The decision to close streets this year is one of several changes in store for the Twilight festivals.
“This year we decided to make some big changes,” Gartner said. “We took all of our members, retailers and the rest and had a big brainstorming session on what we wanted to do that was different this year.”.
Regarding streets, association members chose to close Ninth Street between Broadway and Cherry streets and Fourth Street between Locust and Cherry streets. They also decided to relocate activities from Courthouse Square.
“We wanted to move such a huge event closer to the retailers and restaurant owners,” Gartner said. “This will bring attention not just to the Ninth Street merchants but also help Broadway and the stores of Tenth Street. Putting it in the middle of the core will be helpful to everyone.”
Leigh Lockhart, owner of the Main Squeeze Natural Foods Cafe, said there was a consensus among merchants about the changes.
“All the merchants sign off because it’s a community thing, and we’re a community,” Lockhart said.
The association will watch closely to see how smoothly the street closures work to balance the interests of downtown businesses with those of the large number of people who attend the festivals. Having events set up in different parts of downtown should help keep the crowd spread out, Gartner said.
“We’re also moving Commerce Bank Kids’ Camp down to Flat Branch Park,” Gartner said. “We had two different kid areas, and it made more sense to put it down in the park. Closing Fourth Street kind of gives you one closed street, which will be a nice traffic buffer for kids.”
The new MKT Trail tunnel beneath Providence and Stewart roads will allow families to walk or ride their bikes right into Kids’ Camp without having to fight busy traffic.
“I think it’s great,” Lockhart said. “It’s good progress, and I think it’s very necessary for safety reasons.”
The Twilight Festival has grown in popularity not only with Columbia residents, but also residents of nearby cities such as Mexico, Ashland and Rocheport, Lockhart said. High sidewalk volume during the festivals has been a previous cause for concern from store owners.
“Before it has seemed very dangerous,” said Lisa Bartlett, owner of Spare Parts Gallery. “I’ve seen several people with baby carriages who had to go into the street to go around the sidewalk.”
Still, the Columbia Fire Department had some concerns about closing streets.
“They typically oppose every request to close streets,” Gartner said. “We did work very closely with them.”
Working together, the layout was modified so that a stage on Ninth Street will be angled to allow access for emergency vehicles, and a 28-foot fire lane will be set up on the closed streets. The Fire Department and the Columbia Police Department have both approved the plan.
The first festival will be June 7.