Kansas Relays events in downtown Lawrence deemed a huge success

Increased sales and no broken windows.

All in all, people involved with this week’s experiment to host a portion of the Kansas Relays in downtown Lawrence said the events exceeded their expectations.

“It looks like our Wednesday sales got a boost of 30 to 40 percent,” Tom Wilson, owner of Teller’s, said of the night world-class shot putters competed just down the street from his restaurant. “And they didn’t break any of my windows. That was my biggest concern.”

Organizers estimated the crowd for Wednesday’s shot put competition at Eighth and New Hampshire streets at 2,500 people. A long jump event on Thursday, which was hampered by rain, attracted about 500.

“We’re very pleased,” said Jim Marchiony, associate athletic director for Kansas University. “I think we will be very interested in talking to the city about doing it again.”

City officials will have open ears. Mayor Aron Cromwell said he’s received a lot of positive feedback.

“I know somebody put a picture of the event on their Facebook page and just wrote ‘I love Lawrence,'” Cromwell said. “That’s great.”

The shot put event was thought to be the first U.S. shot put event hosted on a downtown city street.

Assistant public works director Mark Thiel said a crew of city employees worked about six hours to transform the Eighth and New Hampshire intersection into the shot put field. Crews hauled, spread and compacted a layer of fill dirt up to 40 inches deep to create the venue.

“We have a professional group of guys who can build just about anything we ask them too,” Thiel said. “We just gave them the diameter and the layout and said ‘build it.’ I was amazed at how it turned out.”

Crews started removing all the dirt and returning the street to normal at 4:30 a.m. Thursday. The street was completely cleared by 6:30 a.m. Thiel said.

Marchiony said KU’s track and field staff came up with the idea of hosting the two events in downtown as a way of raising the profile of the venerable Kansas Relays. He said KU leaders were optimistic that the increased exposure eventually would lead to larger attendance at the Relays, which run through Saturday at KU’s Memorial Stadium.

“What was great is that you could really see how the crowd fueled the enthusiasm of the athletes,” Marchiony said. “The athletes had a great time.”

Mary Cox, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc. and an owner of Shark’s Surf Shop, said she thinks downtown merchants had a good time, too, and hopes that the events will come back next year — maybe even with bleachers so more people can join in the fun.

“We market downtown as being unique, and I would say that was pretty unique,” Cox said.