More security and additional events highlight today’s First Friday as it kicks off for the first time since six people were wounded after the July festival downtown.
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office said it is stepping up patrols throughout the night, and even more events are planned after nearly a month of discussion about security downtown.
Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said police will aggressively enforce violations, including a midnight curfew for people 18 years and younger. Gay would not disclose the number of officers, but said they will patrol until the early hours of Saturday.
The July 6 shootings occurred about 11:30 p.m. and involved teenagers and people in their 20s.
Gay urged parents not to drop off teenagers downtown unsupervised.
Sallie West, the outreach director for the Greater Augusta Arts Council, which coordinates First Friday, said tonight’s festival will draw large crowds, especially since several groups have stepped up to improve the event.
“There’s more excitement than ever,” West said. “People want to show that we are not afraid. …”
A task force made up of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the sheriff’s office, downtown stakeholders and city leaders met for several weeks after the shooting incident. More police, better control of vendors and improved cleanup efforts were part of an action plan the group created.
Two new events have been planned by groups that say downtown is a safe and fun place.
The Westobou Festival steering committee, the Friends With Benefits Fund and downtown business owner CoCo Rubio collaborated to hold a family-friendly, alcohol-free event that begins at 5 p.m. on Augusta Common with music, food and drinks. At 8 p.m., a ticketed concert is scheduled at the Jessye Norman Amphitheater.
“It’s all about driving more people and business downtown to realize there are things for all ages,” said Molly McDowell, the executive director of the Westobou Festival. “We need to get out and support downtown.”
Organizers hired four off-duty Richmond County sheriff’s officers for the event on the common and eight for security at the concert.
Organizers hope the crowds will support restaurants before the concert and bars after it, McDowell said.