As the pandemic subsides, downtown Columbia is seeing an increase in outdoor events on public land.
The surge in events is being welcomed by those promoting the city as a tourist destination, but there have been complaints about the crowds and noise that come with it.
Megan McConachie, a spokeswoman for the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said tourism events, defined as those that draw visitors to the city, are back to pre-2020 levels.
“Events that would potentially draw people into our community are back to 2019 levels, or in some cases exceeding 2019 levels,” McConachie said.
The exact numbers are difficult to track, McConachie said, because the events that take place throughout the year are so varied. The office aims to market Colombia as a tourist destination, with a focus on tourism-related events that take place on public land and without parks. Not all events in the city center run through the CVB.
“There is no way to measure the sum of all events,” McConachie said. “There are hundreds all over the city every year.”
MyHouse, a downtown nightclub and sports bar, hosts outdoor concerts near the intersection of Sixth and Locust Streets. These events have drawn some criticism.
Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri (SHSMO), took his grievances about MyHouse events to the city council on Sept. 6. Kremer said barriers blocked access to the SHSMO parking lot in late August, causing the historical society to unexpectedly close for August 20. He also raised concerns about Port-a-Potties near the SHSMO parking lot.
Beth Pike, SHSMO communications director, told the Missourian that there were also noise-level issues during the concert preparation.
MyHouse owner Dan Rader denied Kremer’s claims at the council meeting, but said he’s making changes to concert operations in response to the complaints. MyHouse is hosting a concert with the music duo Two Friends on Saturday. Famous for their “big bootie” mixes, the duo makes mashups of popular music, especially EDM (Electronic Dance Music).
Rader said Saturday’s event was planned for 3,000 concert-goers and one block. In order not to block the entrance to the SHSMO parking lot, Rader said he reduced the space and capacity of the concert to 50% of what the council had approved. Volume will also be turned down during opening concerts, bass will be reduced throughout the concert, and noise-canceling technology will be used to curb bass, he said.
Additionally, direct opening action won’t begin until after 8 p.m., when Rader said most neighboring restaurants are closing.
“We just want to show the community that we take them seriously, even if we don’t share their grievances, and we’re trying to do whatever we can to make them happy,” Rader said.
Pike said the size of the concert was not an issue. Knowing the concerns of the city’s historical society, Pike added that SHSMO hopes to have a good relationship with Rader going forward.
“We really hope Rader understands our issues and makes sure our parking lot isn’t blocked so our customers can visit us,” Pike said. “We hope for good neighbors and want the event to be successful.”
At least one nearby business owner, who declined to be quoted, said the road closures were bad for business. But several restaurant owners in the area said they had no problem with the concerts.
Matt Jenne, owner of Addison’s, a restaurant on Cherry Street just around the corner from MyHouse, said his business has not been negatively impacted. Addison actually sees a small bump in customers later that night during the MyHouse concerts, he added.
“It’s good to contribute to downtown culture as long as it’s done responsibly,” Jenne said.
The weekend concert is the fourth in a series of outdoor street concerts by MyHouse, which began in the summer when they returned after a two-year closure.
Though the pandemic caused the initial closure, Rader jumped at the opportunity to make MyHouse a venue and not just a nightclub. The indoor part of the venue is scheduled to open in October. But Rader said year-round concerts — both indoors and outdoors — are in his long-term plans.
“My hope is that MyHouse will become a concert venue for the entire community,” Rader said. “We do country shows, we do rock shows, we do bluegrass and blues, all kinds of stuff.”
For Rader, MyHouse concerts are a step toward retaining students after they graduate from Columbia. He said the talent level of MyHouse books is comparable to that in larger cities — Steve Aoki, a DJ with over 16 million monthly Spotify listeners, performed at MyHouse on September 9th.
“I was born and raised in Colombia,” Rader said. “I remember Summerfest and Roots N Blues (festival) had growing pains and were dealing with basically the same issues that we were dealing with. It’s kind of a live and learn thing.”
In general, McConachie said, any events that draw visitors to Columbia can have a significant economic impact on the city.
“It may mean an additional influx of people at the dates of these events, but it will have a positive economic impact on the smaller businesses that surround the areas where these events take place,” McConachie said.