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Columbia records blowout weekend

Monday, September 17, 2007 | 7:10 p.m. CDT; updated 11:04 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008
Karen, Zack, and Dave Gotsch started off Family Weekend on Friday with some stops at the MU Bookstore and Shakespeare's Pizza. Zack Gotsch is undecided on his major but came to MU on an ROTC scholarship.

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia returns to its population of 90,000 this week after a visitor-filled three days that included the Tour of Missouri pro cycling race, MU’s Family Weekend, the 30th annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show and MU’s first home football game of the season.

It was a “big stretch” for the community to host so many events at once, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the weekend ultimately “went off with very few hitches.” She attributes this to support from the community and the flexibility of business owners and volunteers.

The confluence of so many events in such a short time had some people worried. The busy weekend arrived on the heels of the first-annual Roots ’N’ Blues ’N’ BBQ Festival, which drew an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people, and clogged downtown Columbia with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

It will take at least a few days for the bureau to sort through attendance data, but for now Steiner estimates that “the economic impact of this weekend was substantial.”

“It was much more than a normal football weekend,” she said.

Many hotels in the area were booked — some for as many as two months in advance — and many restaurants reported slight improvements in business.

MU was crawling with out-of-towners celebrating the 2007 Family Weekend. The yearly event provides “an opportunity for folks to visit their sons and daughters,” said David Rielley, MU’s senior coordinator for new student and parent programs.

MU hosted a series of events for visiting family members including Spa Night, various residential and academic open houses and a comedy show featuring Last Comic Standing winner Josh Blue, which drew a crowd of about 1,300.

Except for one complaint from a visitor unable to find a hotel room, the weekend went smoothly.

“The weather was nice. The Tigers won. It was a great weekend all around,” Rielley said.

However, he added, MU plans to work with the city of Columbia to choose a less crowded weekend for next year’s Family Weekend.

This weekend also marked the 30th annual Heritage Festival and Craft Show. Although exact attendance numbers aren’t known, the festival typically draws about 18,000 a year.

An MU Athletic Department spokesman said 53,480 fans attended Saturday’s game against Western Michigan, which MU won 52-24.

However, the game wasn’t the only major athletic event of the weekend.

Cyclists competing in the Tour of Missouri completed stage four of the six-day race Friday, crossing the finish line near Seventh and Walnut streets in the late afternoon.

Joel Thiel, owner of Otto’s Corner Bar & Grill on Eighth Street, saw increased business from about 2 to 5 p.m. when patrons could watch the Tour’s cyclists cross the finish line from the restaurant. It wasn’t full, but it was busier than normal for the middle of the afternoon, Thiel said.

But Saturday was a different story.

Otto’s was “dead,” Thiel said, because the football game was a blowout. When the score is close, he said, fans remain in the stadium to watch the game and might come downtown afterwards.

But if it’s a blowout — as was the case on Saturday — fans leave the stadium early for halftime parties, he said. And “when the game’s over, they’re pretty much done themselves,” Thiel said.


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