On the ball

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When HighBall Halloween organizers imagined a spectacular new costume event, they pictured the elaborate garments from the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert parading beneath the Short North arches.

Charly Bauer, co-owner of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, introduced the idea of a high-profile Halloween party as he helped work on the Short North Business Association's 2008 marketing calendar last December.

"I made the comment that a lot of other cities have really awesome Halloween parties and I thought we should try and come up with something that would reflect the creative energy of the city," he said. "People really responded with a lot of great brainstorming about how to make it happen and what to include."

Armed with the idea to create an atmosphere where costumes were "a little more masquerade-y and fabulous than scary ghouls and skeletons," the Short North group started seeking out people to help them accomplish it. They've solicited ideas through public meetings and internet outreach, and pulled together a committee that includes several young creative pros who don't work or live in the Short North.

Bauer has spent many nights out in costume already, promoting the event.

"What we want it to be is the quintessential urban party for young professionals and the creative class in Columbus," he said.

While the whole crowd may not be able to muster drag couture or high camp, organizers are betting that if 10 percent of guests do, the rest will be happy to show up for the spectacle.

There will be plenty of time for gawking at all kinds of fashion and fantasy throughout the evening. A 50-foot runway will occupy the center of High Street, which will be shut down between Buttles and Hubbard avenues. Emcee and drag queen of national renown Nina West will host a Costume Couture Fashion Showdown. The two local contestants on the fifth season of Project Runway, Kelli Martin and Terri Stevens, will each show a handful of their own designs, capped with a Halloween costume piece. And a dozen other local designers will compete, each also showing three fashion pieces and a costume, for a $1,000 prize package.

Later in the evening, the runway will be turned over to costumed partygoers selected from the crowd. Prizes will be awarded for the best celebrity look-alike, tag team (costumes involving two or more people), drag king and queen, and artistically creative costume. For those with limited energy for creative costumes, classic masquerade ball attire, like tuxedoes and gowns with Venetian Carnivale masks, is a good bet.

Other elements are meant to add to the carnival atmosphere of the event, including a "Howloween" procession of costumed pets early in the evening, light towers that will project images around the party at nightfall, drink tents -- including a signature cocktail -- and live music on stages in the Haiku parking lot. A few Short North businesses are planning costume themes for their staff.

"The creativity and energy is based on the Short North Arts District, not the beer. That's the appeal of the fashion show, that's how we set the bar," Bauer said. He and others are hoping that HighBall Halloween will become an event that's attended by people from well outside the city limits.

"Our goal is to have 25,000 people by year three -- we want it to be known regionally, not just in Columbus," Bauer said. "Experience Columbus submitted it to 500 travel writers around the region to help bring it some attention."

Being a new event, there are still growing pains, and organizers are still building a base of volunteers. If you'd like to participate, visit the website for details.

Highball Halloween

6 p.m.-12 a.m. Friday, Oct. 31

High Street, Short North


Bud Light Lime Performance


6-7:30 p.m.: Floorwalkers

8-9:30 p.m.: Flypaper

10 p.m.-12 a.m.: Buzzcrush

Park Street District

Runway Stage

6-9 p.m.: DJ Moxy

8:30 p.m.: Costume Couture Fashion Showdown

9 p.m.: Midnight DJ Sonya

9:30 p.m.-12 a.m.: Costume contest