A temporary boom

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 | 6:32 p.m. CDT; updated 5:41 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Have patience.

During this busy weekend, be prepared for long lines at restaurants, road closures, traffic delays, parking shortages and hotel room scarcity, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The big weekend is attracting visitors for numerous events, including the inaugural Tour of Missouri pro cycling race, MU’s Family Weekend, the MU Tigers’ first home football game and the 30th annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show.

Although last weekend’s Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ Festival attracted an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people, Steiner said the combination of this weekend’s activities could bring in even more people.

The Tour of Missouri pro cycling race, which will roll through Columbia on Friday, is expected to draw visitors from all over the country and attract more than 300 credential-carrying members of the media.

Columbia police and the Tour of Missouri’s local organizing committee made extensive plans for the bike race.

“The race will cause a temporary discomfort, but with proper planning, minimal disruptions to traffic flow should be noticed,” said Sgt. Tim Moriarity, traffic unit supervisor at the Columbia Police Department.

On a normal shift, about eight to 12 officers are on duty. On Friday afternoon, about 30 additional officers are slotted to work overtime to assist with the Tour of Missouri. In addition, 200 volunteers registered through the Tour of Missouri’s Web site plan to help out.

Adding to Friday’s agenda, families of MU students and Tiger fans will make their way into the city for Family Weekend and the first MU home football game of the season against Western Michigan.

“We know the weekend will draw in a large amount of people who may not know about the other events happening in Columbia,” Moriarity said. “They also may not be familiar with the city, adding to the confusion.”

With an estimated 65,000 fans in and around the stadium for Tiger football games, Moriarity advises people to avoid driving one to two hours before and after the football game unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Adding to an already busy weekend is the annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Historic Nifong Park on Saturday and Sunday. The festival averages about 18,000 visitors per year.

“When this event lands on the same weekend as a football game, people usually attend either before or after the game, or stay overnight to come and visit on Sunday,” said Karen Ramey, recreation supervisor with Columbia Parks and Recreation and festival coordinator.

Heritage Festival organizers realized this would be a busy weekend in Columbia and informed festivalgoers to book their rooms early.

Earlier this week, the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that of the 3,600 hotel and motel rooms in Columbia, 10 percent remained vacant for Friday night and 13 percent for Saturday night.

“Of the rooms currently available, we expect walk-in business to fill the majority of them,” said Megan McConachie, administrative assistant of Columbia’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At Columbia’s Drury Inn, rooms for the weekend were sold out until a group of guests called to release a block of rooms, said Julie Niemeyer, the hotel’s guest services attendant.

As of Tuesday, the Drury reported that three rooms were available for Friday night and 10 for Saturday night.

“We’re used to being sold out during the fall and have extra staff on hand for our busy weekends,” Niemeyer said.

At the Red Roof Inn, all 108 rooms are sold out for both Friday and Saturday nights, said Martin Sutter, the hotel’s guest services representative.

The Days Inn is sold out of all rooms on Friday night, but has about 20 rooms available for Saturday night, manager Ted Berryhill said.

“We’ll also be sold out on Saturday night,” Berryhill said. “Between people coming in off the highway and tailgaters, all the rooms will be gone.”

During this hectic weekend in Columbia, just remember, it will all be over in a couple of days.

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