By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Linda Teeter hears comments about Joplin having no culture year-round. But there's only one time of year when that is actually correct, she said.
"People say there's nothing cultural to do, and I'm thinking, 'Are they kidding?'" said Teeter, one of the organizers who started the downtown art walk that has become Third Thursday. "Usually, I'm so busy because there's so much going on.
"The only time that is true is on New Year's."
As area residents celebrated New Year's Eve, many braved colder temperatures and precipitation to spend the evening at casinos, nightclubs and taverns across the region -- all places where kids aren't allowed.
Tricia Patton, director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, said that families didn't have many options for entertainment that night. Aside from the movies or an all-night skating party in Webb City, most families couldn't do much but head home and watch other cities' parties on TV.
"It's amazing to me, even when we're doing something that's family friendly, how many say to me that we need more things like it," Patton said. "There is absolutely a need."
The new year could include efforts to celebrate the end of it in a family friendly fashion -- countdowns with no champagne toasts. Teeter has tossed around the idea of a New Year's Eve festival of some sort.
But right now such an event is nothing more than an idea. While they think it's a good idea, none of Joplin's major event groups have active plans to establish such a festival.
Patton said the alliance hasn't put any plans in place -- it has investigated the possibility of year-round Third Thursdays, but is unsure that artists could work those extra events into their schedules.
And any such event would have to be done in consideration of the many alliance members who already have their own New Year's events, Patton said.
"This is a humongous night for our restaurants and bars," Patton said. "In creating a New Year's Eve party, we would want to make sure that we're not taking anything away from those venues, and that we're only adding to the celebration."
Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that such an event would take at least 10 months of planning and investment, from city resources (in the form of police and emergency services) to volunteers. The bureau is already busy planning events for December's Christmas season.
"Because Thanksgiving is so late this year, we have one less week this year than last," Tuttle said. "That should scare us more than anything else."
If such an event got organized, the CVB would help publicize it, Tuttle said, similar to the Joplin Holiday Experience, which is a banner under which many different, separate events are marketed.
Even Teeter is just in the exploratory phase -- she has no plans to start anything immediately, she said.
In conversations about such an event, Joplin's Queen City neighbor to the east has been pointed out. Springfield hosts a First Night event in its downtown area.
First Night Springfield featured kids' activities, music, theater and other performances at various downtown locations and a fireworks show to ring in the new year. It is an event of the Springfield Regional Arts Council and is managed by the Urban Districts Alliance.
Teeter said that those groups could offer an outline of what encompasses such an event.
"I'd like to sit down with them and ask how they got started, what they do and how do they do it," Teeter said. "It's worth knowing more."
It doesn't even have to be held downtown. Patton said the alliance would support such an event, whether it was held in Landreth Park or Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.
"We're not at a place in Joplin where we have so much going on that it's competitive," Patton said. "Anyone willing to step up and create an event for the community, especially when it's family friendly, is fine."
The main obstacle is funding. First Night had Phoenix Home Care as a major sponsor. Teeter said a corporate sponsor would be a necessity, especially for the first few years, because an event planner would have to be paid to organize such an event correctly.
"Coming up with ideas is easy," Teeter said. "The hard part is physically getting the financing, and getting people to buy into it."
The demand for family friendly events, however, may inspire action. While it's unlikely Joplin will see such an event to ring in 2014, wheels for a 2015 event might get rolling.
Yet, Tuttle said he has heard of no such demand. The additional complications of needing extra volunteers and personnel, and having to contend with the weather, make such an event challenging.
"We need to get basic questions answered," Tuttle said. "If the weather turns, we have to deal with that. A lot of people want to be at home with their families, and an event would pull workers away from them."
"When it comes to this demographic, people are looking for something cheap -- something the whole family can do for less that $100," Patton said. "If we were to get involved, we'd want it to be accessible to all of Joplin."