By Kevin Collison
In the wake of last First Friday’s tragic shooting, organizers want to calm the event closer to its roots as a celebration of the Crossroads art scene, not the loud, crowded street party it’s become in recent years.
The Crossroads Community Association announced Friday that next week’s First Friday temporarily will ban food trucks within the festival permit boundaries, street closings and sidewalk vendors while the organization seeks a longer term solution.
“We’re going to try to calm it down a bit, although we can’t get it all the way back to where it was,” said Jeff Owens, association vice president.
“I can’t imagine we’ll have nearly the density we have now,” said Suzie Aron, one of the Crossroads most familiar figures. “We don’t want it to be a street festival.”
Last First Friday, Aug. 2, Erin Langhofer, a 25 year-old therapist from Overland Park, was killed by a stray bullet fired during a street fight a block away at 18th and Walnut. She was waiting at a food truck with her boyfriend when she was mortally wounded.
The random killing stunned organizers and participants at an event that has grown from a cozy, Friday night open house tour of art galleries in the Freight House District to become a street party drawing thousands to a large swath of the Crossroads.
A celebration of Langhofer’s life is scheduled for next week’s First Friday at the Church of the Resurrection Downtown at 1601 Grand from 6- to 7:30 p.m.
Mayor Quinton Lucas posted a Tweet Friday saying he plans to attend next week’s event.
“I will first be at the @rezdowntown community event and encourage you to attend,” Lucas posted.
“I also will make sure I support artists, restaurants, and businesses that make the Crossroads area and the First Fridays tradition special.”
Aron, who also is a vice president at the Crossroads Association, said Langhofer’s murder shocked and saddened everyone.
“Over 20 years, we never had a fight and there was no danger,” she said.
But Aron added the First Friday atmosphere, at least later in the night, had begun changing this summer.
“We started hearing about experiences being shared by employees getting off work and being hassled going to their cars at 11 or 12 at night,” she said, adding there were complaints of loud music and open drinking on the sidewalks.
At meeting hosted by the Crossroads Community Association a week ago, about 150 people broke into 10 groups and were asked to make suggestions about the future of First Fridays.
“Many of them wanted to return to art,” Aron said. “They didn’t want a drunken street party, that was the biggest theme.
“It was a response to the whole thing getting out of control, there was no way to monitor it all.”
The association leaders also said their organization had not received the support they would have liked from the city.
Laws against open drinking weren’t being enforced and the police department was not engaged helping with security.
“The policing has always not been where it should be,” Owens said. “They’ve engaged recently and will be teaming up with our off-duty officers.”
Moving beyond September, Owens said the anticipated First Friday revamp calls for fewer food trucks, fewer closed streets and the event shutting down at 9 p.m. with everyone gone by 10 p.m.
There will be no alcohol or amplified music as well.
“The whole goal is to make it a fun, cool event and calm the drinking down and stop the late night stuff,” he said.
Aron also said the growth of First Fridays had become an increasing financial burden on her association of property and business owners.
“This isn’t what we want for our neighborhood and we can’t afford it,” she said. “It cost so much money to handle the dense crowds, we have been spending a lot for security and trash cleanup.”
Aron said the Crossroads Community Association intends to revive an effort to create a community improvement district to help fund security, maintenance and improvements in the area.
A petition drive needed to establish a CID is expected to be started soon. It would require the support of a majority of property and business owners to establish the sales and property tax surcharges often required to fund it.
An effort a few years ago to establish a CID stalled because owners already were being asked to financially support the transportation development district required to fund the downtown streetcar.
“What’s different now is the streetcar has helped people earn more money and maybe they can use some it for the improvement district,” Aron said.
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