Augusta First Friday will crack down on illegal vendors

Organizers can’t close downtown when the official First Friday event ends, but they can eliminate the “attractive nuisance” of illegal street vendors and remind visitors when the family friendly-event is over, an Augusta panel said Wednesday.

The panel, assembled by City Administrator Fred Russell after six people were shot on Broad Street the night of the July First Friday, focused much of the discussion Wednesday on illegal vendors. Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said those vendors helped create a “flea market” atmosphere that took up law enforcement resources.

Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, maintained that the arts council is the “coordinating agency” for the event, which ends at 9:30 p.m. The group has issued permits to vendors and acts for several years, but after the July 6 shooting, Sheriff Ronnie Strength and some Augusta Commission members complained that having no group in charge was part of First Friday’s problems.

Under a tweaked system, permitted vendors will have special passes that change design each month. Store, gallery and restaurant owners who open on First Friday are responsible for ensuring any vendors that set up in front of their businesses have permits, Durant said.

“If you walk by a store that’s closed, (vendors) are not legal,” she said. “You can’t give permission to someone to be outside if you’re closed.”

That means that, after 9:30 p.m., the only food sold downtown, except for two hot dog stands with special permits, will be inside restaurants. The only merchandise sold will be inside stores, if they remain open.

With sweeps of illegal vendors made by Augusta’s licensing department and encouragement at 9:30 p.m. from the sheriff’s office, the vendor street presence should be gone by 10 p.m., Russell said.

“Take whoever is not to your place,” Russell told Gay.

The defined timeline will discourage the “creep” between the family event and downtown adult nightlife, which Russell said was “welcome in bars, welcome in restaurants,” but “not welcome to loiter.”

“The perception is that First Friday lasts until 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.,” Gay said. “Even though we’ve shown statistically that Broad Street is relatively safe, it’s not a place to drop children off.”

Russell urged involvement by the Down­town Advisory Panel, an offshoot of the Downtown Development Authority and its precursor, Main Street Augusta, which once sponsored First Friday. The advisory panel held a meeting last week that attracted 100 people, said representative Mike Walraven, of Schweitzer Art Glass Studio.

Jennifer Bowen, of Au­gusta Convention and Visit­ors Bureau, said First Friday was “a very important event for us” but urged the 9:30 p.m. end to be implemented in a “sensitive” manner.

Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the development authority, agreed with Gay’s suggestion that the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative, a private custodial and hospitality service paid for with a special downtown tax, work late on First Fridays.

Gay said despite the open-container ordinance, trash such as bottles left lying around creates a safety hazard.

First Friday festivities will continue Aug. 3 with a family-friendly event on Augusta Common and a ticketed concert at Jessye Norman Amphitheater, said the city’s special events manager, Yolanda Greenwood.

The panel will meet again Aug. 1 to coordinate the August First Friday event.

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