May 1, 2009
If you take a look around downtown, you''ll notice the well-preserved historic buildings, beautiful landscaping, complete with flowers placed with care.
Grass is well manicured. Sidewalks are clean.
Downtown shops are inviting and intriguing.
And the Riverwalk is a welcoming haven for dog walkers and meanderers in general.
Yes, we''re spoiled.
Downtown Columbus is ripe with life.
At its core, Main Street Columbus Inc. works to keep the life blood flowing.
And somewhere near the heart of this circulatory system is the Market Street Festival.
It gives people not only an excuse to get to know their downtown, but reasons by the hundreds -- arts and crafts vendors, inflatables, face painting, balloons and food galore -- to flock to its welcoming streets.
This year, the event -- which kicks off tonight with concerts and continues through Saturday -- boasts more food vendors than ever before.
Where else can you get funnel cake, pizza, chicken on a stick and crawfish, all within a few steps of each other?
The food court and beverage booths will be open during concerts tonight and Saturday night.
The Paul Thorn Band and Class of ''65 open festivities on the main stage, in front of The Dispatch. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. The Class of 65, featuring Big Ben Atkins, entertains from 7:30-9 p.m., followed by Mississippi-native Thorn from 9:30-11 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the gates or in advance at the Main Street Columbus office at 107 Fifth St. N.
Organizers conservatively estimate the event cranks more than $1 million into the local economy, through hotel stays, restaurant and gas purchases and shopping at local stores.
Last year, Main Street Manager Amber Murphree notes, there were 120 hotel stays during the two-day event. This year, many hotels already are at capacity for the weekend.
As for the festival itself, last year''s take from sales tax on arts and crafts vendors and beverage sales was $7,801. And 100 percent of the money produced by the festival will be spent by Main Street on downtown beautification projects.
"All of the proceeds from Market Street Festival go toward projects in the downtown area," affirmed Jan Miller, central district director for Main Street Mississippi.
For instance, during the first six years of planning the original $1.7 million, 1.25 mile Riverwalk, more than $300,000 of the funds came straight from Main Street.
"We probably provide more restoration projects for downtown than any other Main Street in the state," she added.
And having a vibrant, thriving downtown is integral to any community.
"It creates a sense of community," said Murphree. "It helps the smaller, local businesses. And it creates a place for people to come and feel safe, and it definitely contributes back to the city, as far as tax dollars.
"When there is industry looking for a place to locate, one of the first things they want to do is drive through downtown. They''ve gone to places where the downtown is dying, and they don''t want to build in those places."
The 14th annual festival will span 12 city blocks and draw an estimated crowd of 40,000.
Be among them, if only for a little while. Soak up the atmosphere, and be a part of keeping downtown alive and becoming.
After all, says Miller, "The whole purpose of the festival is to bring people downtown and to showcase our downtown."