The Columbia Association is ready to draw people to Town Center this weekend with some new enticements: roller coasters, singing dinosaurs and 3,000 free cupcakes, all part of the revived Columbia City Fair.
The City Fair also will have music, food, artists, vendors, information booths and family entertainment tonight through Sunday as part of the community's 40th birthday celebration.
The fair is the latest in a series of summer events at the lakefront, which has already hosted Australian artists on stilts, two fireworks displays and Harry Potter (on a movie screen).
"For 20 years, we haven't had a carnival [in Columbia]," said Cynthia Coyle, a Columbia Association board member and City Fair chairwoman. "We asked our contractors to provide a few rides, and when they came back with a carnival, we were really thrilled."
Columbia once had annual city fairs. They started with the community's 10th birthday celebration and continued for roughly 15 years, according to Barbara Russell, Columbia Association board chairwoman and leader of the birthday celebration task force. At that time, the fairs were put on by an independent nonprofit organization.
Russell said last summer, when people were starting to plan Columbia's 40th birthday celebration, "a number of people were saying, 'Can't CA bring back the City Fair? That was fantastic. We're sorry it disappeared.' "
Russell brought the idea to the birthday task force, and the members who recalled past fairs said a revival needed to have carnival rides, community booths, and arts and crafts.
"We're trying to keep the City Fair as close to the original City Fair as possible," Russell said. But, she added, "it is going to be a City Fair on steroids."
Organizers lined up more than 40 artisans and crafters from the East Coast, more than 25 businesses and 16 food vendors. The fair committee also set aside room for 35 nonprofit, government and religious organizations to rent booths for a lower price.
Coyle said people told her they missed the opportunity to see what local organizations are doing. "Every year, they wanted to have some way to connect with the community," Coyle said.
David Roura, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Howard County, said, "We're very pleased the City Fair has come back to downtown Columbia. It is important we have some central activities for the general public to congregate at. ... From Habitat's perspective, we really rely on the public as our volunteer base, and the opportunity to reach out and share with them our vision, how they can be a part of it, is very important."
A booth at the Columbia International Day last year attracted a bunch of new members, said Gary Prestianni, president of the Columbia Ski Club. Now his group is looking forward to a spot at the City Fair because, "there are still people in Columbia that don't know we exist."
He said it is important for residents to know more about member-run organizations like his, which holds numerous athletic outings and community volunteer projects in addition to ski trips.
Families can enjoy a performance by Dino Rock, which uses costumed characters, puppets and music to introduce children to science, starting at noon. At 1:30 p.m., there will be a watermelon eating contest, a hula hoop contest and a three-legged race among other games, followed by the cutting of the birthday cake and the distribution of 3,000 cupcakes.
Over three days, the fair will also feature 15 bands, dance groups and other entertainers, many of whom are looking forward to reaching a broad audience.
"When you have a ticketed concert, you have people who are coming to hear that specific band, therefore they have expectations," said Peter BarenBregge, director of the Columbia Jazz Ensemble. "When you have an open forum like this, it's actually better ... to promote our band, it's a much broader cross-section of people."
BarenBregge said for the more informal setting, his all-volunteer group will "keep it moving, keep it interesting, keep it accessible."
Damon Foreman said he enjoys playing his mix of jazz, blues and rock in his own community. He has played previously at Wine in the Woods and Sunset Serenades.
Foreman said an improvisational approach keeps the music fresh for local audiences.
He also said a free, outdoor event like the City Fair allows young people to see his band and is "a great educational opportunity for parents to share with their children."
Columbia City Fair
What: Three-day celebration with music, food, carnival rides, community booths and family entertainment. There will be a fireworks display at 9 p.m. today and a cake-cutting ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Columbia lakefront and surrounding areas.
When: Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
Cost: Entry and entertainment are free. Tickets are required for carnival rides.
Parking: Free parking is available at Merriweather Post Pavilion or off Sterrett Place. Shuttles are available to the fair for senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Information: www.columbiabirthday.com or 410-715-3126.