Downtown Topeka Inc. is always on the lookout for the next big event to show off redevelopment in the heart of the city.
Recent endeavors include car shows, concerts, food festivals and kid-friendly events that line the streets, helping to reinforce downtown Topeka’s growing reputation as an entertainment venue.
“On a daily basis, we hear people talk about, ‘Hey, let’s bring out events,’” said Michelle Stubblefield, DTI’s director of marketing and membership. “We get calls frequently about other organizations that want to take advantage of the excitement downtown and create an event.
“That’s what’s been exciting, and we get to see that conversation daily about how we can bring more things to Topeka and really bring excitement.”
Stubblefield said attracting popular events is essential to the growth of downtown, noting that people are more likely to frequent businesses there once they’re drawn to the area by a specific event.
“People are always wondering what’s going on with the redevelopment,” Stubblefield said. “What’s been exciting is having people come down and see the changes taking place, and stopping in to get coffee somewhere, sitting down and enjoying the pocket parks, or taking advantage of the new restaurants.”
DTI’s first major event of the year was the Bridge2Bridge 5-kilometer run on April 22.
Stubblefield said more than 200 people participated in the event, which crossed over the Kansas River on both the Topeka Boulevard and Kansas Avenue bridges. Ages of the participants ranged from 6 to 78, with proceeds going toward the more than 30 free events DTI hosts a year.
“That proved very successful, because it’s such a unique run,” she said.
One of downtown’s marquee events of the summer is 99.3’s Eagle Cruise Night, a classic car show, which was on May 6.
Car shows “give the opportunity for people to talk, hang out and enjoy something they truly love,” Stubblefield said. “It’s a great way for people to come together and just enjoy each other’s time.”
Cruisin’ the Capital Car Show, set for Aug. 12, is also expected to bring in thousands.
“What’s interesting about that one is those who take part actually get to do a burnout right on the street as part of the event,” Stubblefield said. “That brings a lot of interest and a lot of excitement that most people just don’t get to take advantage of.”
For music and food lovers, Stubblefield recommended the Capital City Jazz and Food Truck Festival on Oct. 7.
“The past few years, that has been another huge exciting event, because again people get to have food, hang out, bring their lawn chairs for a free event,” Stubblefield said. “That’s the big thing … regardless of how much money you have, you can come down and enjoy your time and take in the sight and sounds and explore downtown.
“Our big emphasis in creating events is having things that are free.”
Stubblefield said the presence of food trucks is a big draw.
“We obviously have great food downtown,” Stubblefield said. “When it comes to an event, people also like to try something new. Between our events and Visit Topeka events, and just in general, food trucks are pretty popular, so we take advantage of that interest.”
Other popular events toward the end of the year include Boo It Downtown Candy Crawl on Oct. 26 and the Miracle on Kansas Avenue Parade on Nov. 25.
“I love the fact that downtown is growing, changing and getting better,” Laura Schafer, of Topeka, told The Topeka Capital-Journal after attending last year’s parade. “I’m really enjoying being a part of it.”
“Looking around, there’s just a lot more life down here,” Briana Arkenberg, of Tecumseh, added. “It’s a lot less industrial, and you can see people appreciate that. It’s really nice.”
Stubblefield said it’s satisfying to see the progress downtown Topeka has made the last few years as an entertainment venue.
“We understand the history of what it looked like a few years ago and what it looks like now and how much more life there is,” she said.