Fort Gordon command staff will consider preventing soldiers from visiting downtown Augusta during First Friday.
The topic came up Friday afternoon at the quarterly meeting of the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board, which addresses garrison issues on post, including whether to recommend that certain establishments and areas be placed off-limits to soldiers.
The panel of civilians and military personnel expressed concern about this month’s First Friday, which ended with six people, half of them teenagers, wounded by gunfire. Richmond County sheriff’s investigators continue to search for a suspect.
Lt. Col. Hollis Bush, director of Fort Gordon’s emergency services, said he would research the incident and collect data to present at the next meeting, in October. Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, Fort Gordon’s commander, recently placed Trip 3 Smoke Shop off-limits after an investigation found the store was selling synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice.”
Stephanie Forbes, the owner of Gaartdensity Gallery at 1155 Broad St., said she hopes the fort doesn’t keep soldiers away.
“I think it’s a huge mistake,” she said. “Soldiers make up a good percentage of First Friday patrons. It isn’t going to solve anything by pulling people away.”
Forbes, who also waits tables at Mellow Mushroom on Broad Street, is working on getting a group of downtown business owners together next week to discuss ways to bring First Friday back to what it was when it started in 1994 – an art gallery walk designed to draw families downtown and showcase businesses.
“There is so much great potential for downtown,” she said. “Running away isn’t going to solve anything.”
Christan Armour, a manager at Bees Knees located at 211 10th Street, said banning soldiers from the monthly event would be detrimental to businesses in the area.
“It will definitely affect business downtown,” she said. “And it seems unfair to (the soldiers).”
Commanding officers have the privilege under military law to place locations and businesses off-limits if it’s found those places are detrimental or harmful to their “health, morale, safety, morals and welfare.”
In the wake of the shooting, Richmond County sheriff’s investigators said they will boost security at First Fridays and increase their enforcement of the city’s midnight curfew for minors. Officers believe a single shooter opened fire shortly after 11:30 p.m. in the 900 block of Broad Street.
The shooting led some to recall another violent incident that marred the event. In October 2002, three fights broke out that ended in damage to Broad Street bars. At least 19 arrests were made for disorderly conduct.
First Friday was originally run by Main Street Augusta, which was funded by the Downtown Development Authority. Main Street Augusta dissolved itself in 2006, and the DDA relinquished the festival for financial reasons. It was picked up by the Greater Augusta Arts Council in 2007, which has been running it on a very limited scale since then.