Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An alternative to Apple Chill?

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, April 7th:

We're coming up on the first anniversary of last year's Apple Chill debacle and rightful cancellation, and it seems to be on people's minds. Last week the Town Council approved a plan for a new summer concert series and craft festival conceived at least in part to substitute for the absence of the old event. I think the plans they passed sound nice and will be good for the community. But I still think the lack of a townwide celebration in the spring that brings folks in from around the region before the students go home will leave a void.

I believe there's a solution to that problem, though -- a solution that would bring people together, be unlikely to create the sort of crime problems associated with Apple Chill, and provide a wonderful model of town/gown relations.

Nothing brings the disparate elements of the Chapel Hill community together more than UNC basketball.

Likewise, nothing brings more folks from around the state into our community and spending money than UNC basketball.

It may be too late for this year, but I think we should start a new tradition the third or fourth weekend of every April with a parade down Franklin Street to honor the UNC basketball teams, both men and women.

It would give fans, locally and beyond, one last chance to express their appreciation to the Tar Heels before the beginning of the summer.

When the men won the national championship in 2005, there was a lovely event honoring them in the Dean Dome at 4 p.m. the next afternoon, a Tuesday. That was fine for me as a student living on campus. But it likely didn't do much for the working folks in Charlotte and certainly not much for fans in Atlanta or the D.C. area.

We schedule our lives around the games for five months, pour our heart and soul into them.

But when the season ends, win or lose, it's an abrupt ending. There's not much in the way of closure.

Sure the conclusion of the women's season was disappointing but a Final Four season is still something to celebrate. Yet when they came back from Cleveland, there was little in the way of something to show our appreciation with. The men beat Duke twice, won the ACC tournament for the first time in nine years. Getting back from the Elite Eight at nearly midnight though, they didn't have a ton of fans there to greet them.

The good folks at the Visitors Bureau are always looking for opportunities to bring more folks into town, staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, frequenting our shops.

Using the parade as a center piece, it could be the impetus for folks to come spend an entire weekend in Chapel Hill. Show off Memorial Auditorium with a free concert. Do something nice on McCorkle Place. Tie it in with UNC baseball games or the spring football game. Figure out creative ways to showcase Franklin Street.

It would provide the perfect opportunity to create a premier spring event to bring people into Chapel Hill and celebrate the collaboration of our town and university.

So I'd like to see Town Manager Roger Stancil, Athletic Director Dick Baddour, Chamber of Commerce head Aaron Nelson, Downtown Partnership leader Liz Parham, Visitors Bureau chief Laurie Paolicelli and other interested community leaders sit down together sometime in the next few weeks and think about giving it a shot for 2008.

It would be great to get students involved, too. The UNC student government, under the strong leadership of Chapel Hill native and just-departed Student Body President James Allred, this year reinvigorated "Spring Fest" as an opportunity for music and fun at the end of the school year. Incorporating the event into a broader spring celebration between UNC and Chapel Hill could be a good project for new president Eve Carson.

There is no doubt that Apple Chill outlived its usefulness in our community.

But instead of looking at it as a loss, we should seize it as an opportunity. Designing a large-scale event from scratch will allow us to learn from some of the pitfalls of the past, while coming up with ways to accentuate what is good about our community.

We can design a series of events that appeal to a wide array of people, creating an atmosphere of unity while also helping to stimulate economic activity in the area. There's certainly nothing to lose by discussing it, so let's get that talk going.

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