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      Winter Comedy Arts Festival kicks off in Traverse City

      Rosie O'Donnell will take center stage Thursday in Traverse City as the opening act of the Traverse City Winter Comedy Arts Festival.

      The festival of laughs begins at the State Theatre with O'Donnell at 8:30 p.m. and will continue through Sunday. Comedians will entertain at five venues downtown including the State Theatre, City Opera House, Old Town Playhouse, Horizon Books, and the Inside Out Gallery. A schedule of events can be found on the festival's website.

      "There's shows everywhere from stand-up comedy to improv, to open mic over at the inside out, to podcasts that are going on, to a free set combo platter that is going on at Horizon Books," said Festival Co-Director Deb Lake.

      The Traverse City Film Festival and National Cherry Festival will team-up during the comedy festival to turn Front Street into a winter wonderland of free family fun. Two blocks of Front Street will be blocked off for festival fun including a free ice skating rink, a ferris wheel and a sledding hill. New additions include a zip line down the 100 block of Front Street.

      "And there's a sporting arena where we'll have things like the dog pull and the Slip and Fall Olympics and a whole bunch of stuff going on," said Lake.

      Since a portion of Front Street will be closed, officials with the Downtown Development Authority want to remind people that they can use the parking garages.

      "The Hardy Parking Deck is free all weekend and the Old Town Parking Deck will be free on the ground and we'll have event parking on the upper level so it's fairly easy to do, and it's covered parking," said DDA Marketing Director Colleen Paveglio.