October 5, 2010 10:14:00 AM
Ryan Poe - [email protected]
It''s official: The three-day Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival was a blockbuster.
Organizers estimate a total of more than 20,000 people attended the celebration of the one-time booming black business district and the accompanying parade.
"It was amazing," said Ward 5 City Councilman and Festival Chairman Kabir Karriem. "It was the biggest festival we''d ever had."
The award-winning shindig possibly doubled its crowd from last year, bringing that many more tourism dollars to the area, he added.
"They spent money for gas. They ate at our restaurants and stayed at our hotels," he continued. "The festival has an economic impact, not only on Columbus but Lowndes County."
Karriem said the festival, which was named a top-20 event for September by the Southeast Tourism Society, has grown steadily over the past eight years.
But this year, he added, the festival surpassed expectations.
The "beautiful" festival partly owes its rapid growth to the mixture of cultures, said longtime resident Alvin Jones, 49.
"It connects everybody," said Jones as he listened to gospel Saturday afternoon. "It''s for all people."
Saturday night was the focal point of the event, featuring famed R&B artists Dru Hill performing on the center stage at Seventh Avenue and 15th Street.
That night, there were from 10,000 to 15,000 people at any given time from across the county, Karriem said.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of people lined Main Street and Military Road to watch a parade led by the Jackson State University band "Sonic Boom of the South."
The parade ended at Seventh Avenue and 15th Street, where a Mississippi Blues Trail historical marker commemorating the Queen City Hotel was unveiled.
During the Jim Crow years, the hotel catered to black wayfarers. Between its creation in the early 1900s and its demolition in 2007, the hotel played host to music legends like Duke Ellington, James Brown and B.B. King.
The fete also brought in about 13 vendors from as far away as South Carolina and Chicago who sold everything from sneakers to king crabs.
"The music, different people and vendors -- it all came together," said Sharon Morris, a first-time party-goer from Macon, Saturday. "I''m loving it."
A native of the area, Karriem remembers the first informal block parties celebrating the avenue''s history.
In the ''60s and ''70s, the district was a powerhouse of entrepreneuralism, Karriem said. His mother, Helen Karriem, still runs Helen''s Kitchen, one of the few remaining businesses in the area.
Although the festival gives the neighborhood a much-needed shot in the arm, the councilman said he hopes people will support the area regularly.
"Just come and support the few businesses still on Seventh Avenue," he said. "Bring your kids to see the blues marker."