Fixing First Friday

Festival needs more accountability, more leadership in wake of violence

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Augusta’s monthly First Friday arts festival is looking for a new owner.

The thing is, it doesn’t seem to have one now.

In recent months, as the sheriff says, it has been “an event that nobody’s putting on.” Little surprise, then, that First Friday has gotten out of hand. Again.

A melee and mass arrests after First Friday in October 2002 led to an increased police presence and more defined activities and hours. But since then, ownership of the event has traded hands from the now-defunct Main Street Augusta to its parent, the Downtown Development Authority to the Greater Augusta Arts Council.

Ten years after the melee, the problem is still there.

After a shooting that injured six following last Friday’s event on Broad Street – none seriously, thank goodness – the community is facing the same issues as before. But with a new twist: There seems to be no go-to party to take charge or accept blame.

Brenda Durant, the arts council’s executive director, told The Chronicle Saturday that if they want to stop playing host to First Friday, business owners downtown can just close up shop and disinvite street vendors.

Of course, after Friday’s shooting, we’ll need more accountability than that.

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength, clearly frustrated by a lack of accountability, said that the past year and a half it became clear that no one was in charge of First Friday – and he became concerned the event was sliding back toward its earlier problems. Friday, he was proved right.

Monday, he met with Mayor Deke Copenhaver and several Augusta commissioners to hash out a plan for going forward. The mayor and Commissioner Matt Aitken were tasked with meeting with downtown merchants to come up with that plan. We assume the discussions will involve the arts council.

We agree with the sheriff: There has to be an identifiable entity or person in charge, if for no other reason than to give the sheriff’s office clarity on when the thing is to be shut down. It’s supposed to end at 9 p.m., but Sheriff Strength said it hasn’t been, and vendors have been lingering to fuel the after-party on Broad.

In fairness to the arts community: The problem isn’t a bunch of Pablo Picassos rioting. The arts vendors, patrons and other businesses have a beautiful thing going. But after hours, it gets ugly.

That has led some in the downtown area to call for the end of First Friday. Bonnie Ruben and Jeff Gorelick, owners of Ruben’s Department Store and other downtown businesses, are adamant: First Friday has become a disaster.

“It’s scary. It’s beyond scary. It’s creating its own monster,” Ruben said. “It’s an out-of-control, Freaknik time bomb waiting to go off. It has imploded. The weight has brought it down on itself.”

Freaknik was an Atlanta-area festival that caused so many problems the city banished it.

Ruben said First Friday is wholesome enough, but provides Friday-night cover for troublemakers.

“First Friday gives them an excuse to come out,” she said. “There’s no way to sort them out” from law-abiding groups.

It “troubles me a lot” to give up on Friday night safety and civility, she said, but added it would be best to move the event to the daytime, perhaps on Saturdays. Gorelick concurred – after a night in which a sheriff’s deputy actually told him to hit the deck due to gunfire.

“Something has to be done about this,” he said.

“Somebody needs to take ownership” of the event, Mayor Copenhaver said. “The event going forward needs to be professionally managed.”

Canceling it won’t be up to the mayor: “How does the city pull the plug on an event we don’t sponsor?”

Ultimately, this isn’t even a First Friday problem. It’s a societal one – one that parents, schools, business leaders, churches and others need to come together to solve.

For now, the merchants will apparently have to decide what kind of festival they have, if any.

The rest of us will have to decide what kind of community we have.

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Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 07/10/12 - 02:16 am
9
0
"Ultimately, ...come together to solve."

Well-said, ACES.

The violence which erupted in Downtown Augusta late Friday night has been incubating in our homes. in our schools and on other streets for years. Such violence won't eradicate itself. Getting rid of it will require parents, family members, neighbors, school officials, law enforcement and greater Augustans to desist in our recurrent talking the talk of violence-prevention and-supression. We need to walk its walk, instead.

Hey, wonder if this talk will go the way of the talk about eliminating the school-dropout problem? Sure hope not.

"Actions speak louder than words."

Just My Opinion
5288
Points
Just My Opinion 07/10/12 - 04:52 am
6
0
First off, let me say that

First off, let me say that I've never been to First Friday. The mayor questioned how the city has the right to pull the plug on First Friday when the city doesn't sponsor it. Well, don't all these vendors have to have some sort of vendor's license that they have to get from the city? And wouldn't those licenses have some sort of stipulations on them that include what time they close up? Why can't they start there? Make it mandatory that the vendors close up shop when FF is supposed to close up....9 pm. Again, I've never been, so I don't understand what it is that all these people are STAYING out for after FF closes down.

chascushman
6653
Points
chascushman 07/10/12 - 07:06 am
13
5
‘The violence which erupted
Unpublished

‘The violence which erupted in Downtown Augusta late Friday night has been incubating in our homes. in our schools and on other streets for years.’
You are correct, it is the cause by the entitlement mentally that has been taught by the liberals/progressives mostly democrats and many black leaders for the last 40 years.

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 07/10/12 - 07:27 am
0
0
I have been...
Unpublished

I have been to several First Fridays and never had a problem. You cannot stop the criminal element from coming out late at night unless you are prepared to make massive arrests, convictions and severe penalties. The plea bargain has hurt society as much as the downfall of our education system. This "I want it now" mentality is mostly the problem made worse by the "I am entitled to everything" attitudes.

mikesaul
1020
Points
mikesaul 07/10/12 - 07:38 am
12
0
Sadly, it's nothing new...

Just look back on events such as Freaknik in Atlanta for proof! This has been a growing issue for decades, thanks to, as chas said, "the entitlement mentality". But it is not simply being taught by the liberals, it is being indoctrinated into the youth that they need no longer have respect for anyone, nor anyone's property! "If someone has more than you, that's unfair and you should take it". That last line is quoted because I actually heard it spoken by a PREACHER at a friend's church!

There is no more respect being taught to our kids, for others, for authority, not even for themselves! We are watching the maturation of the "I don't care, it's MINE!" generation, and we should be very concerned!

DuhJudge
206
Points
DuhJudge 07/10/12 - 07:47 am
3
1
I have been a number of times

I have been a number of times but it has been a while. Even then, it had the feel of the midway at the Exchange Club Fair. No one was in line for rides, just walking the midway. Generally the kind of crowd one chooses to avoid, but put up with because ....it's the fair. It has it's own brand of energy. I was never late leaving and we always stayed in certain blocks. Probably the way most did. I certainly understand why the younger people are attracted to FF. Few rules and an edge of chance. The patrons will clean it up, if they want to keep it. See if anyone shows up next month, then decide what to do with it.

Riverman1
79611
Points
Riverman1 07/10/12 - 08:17 am
8
2
The Great First Friday Shootout

The Great First Friday Shootout has awakened Augusta to how out of control this event is. Unfortunately all I hear are clichés such as this: "It’s a societal one – one that parents, schools, business leaders, churches and others need to come together to solve."

Translate that and it means, Welcome to Augusta, GA.

The event, and I use that word loosely, needs to be shut down. I haven't heard one good solution to controlling it. The police don't have a clue either. They sit in their cars with blue lights on telling people not to drive down Broad St. They walk in groups of four instead of spreading out.

So how do you stop it? No vendors, bars close at 11, lots of police on Broad shaking down every shady character walking down the street with lots of arrests for curfew violation, weapons, drugs and public intoxication. They will soon get the message.

Either that or put a fence around the whole area and only let people enter through a checkpoint. Geez, did I even say that? Is that what Augusta has come to?

Riverman1
79611
Points
Riverman1 07/10/12 - 08:57 am
7
1
Connection to the TEE Center

Supposedly, the TEE has a black religious convention scheduled some time next year. I can see all of them on Broad St now rubbing shoulders with the thugs. Heck, maybe they can help, who knows?

paperhearts
99
Points
paperhearts 07/10/12 - 08:21 am
10
2
Investigate Margaret Woodard.

Where is the DDA in all of this, they receive our money, they can take responsibility if someone has to. When will it be time to investigate Margaret Woodard and the complete failure of a job she is doing running the DDA. The business owners paid into the DDA with big promises of security and manpower to the streets. Every action she makes is apparent that she is anti downtown augusta and wants it to fail. We pay for her to sit on her rear end and destroy our downtown with one idiotic move at a time. Ask the the downtown business owners what they think of her. You would think that someone that is supposed championing downtown would be a friend to the dt business owners, but they can't stand her. She has aligned herself as an enemy to them time and time again. She only sees them as her meal ticket and that she is above them. Get her out, the DDA is not the problem in itself, and that woman is only one broken piece to this sad puzzle. Replace her, Replace the Sheriff (his solutions are inadequate), Start enforcing curfew, Set up a satellite Sheriff's station right on broad st. if you have to.
This happened after first friday, the business owners had as much to do with this as if someone showed up to the mall after hours and starting shooting. No one blames the mall business owners when incidents happen there. Stop making these people that are just trying to hold their businesses together the enemy.

scgator
1042
Points
scgator 07/10/12 - 08:34 am
8
0
"Just My Opinion" The vendors

"Just My Opinion"
The vendors secure a permit from a table set up by the Arts Council; we are told at that time....."you have to pack up and be gone by nine. We were also told that "First Friday" goes on until the bars close (not at 9 PM); we were told that after nine it can get "a little rough" downtown, so the vendors should leave.

"The mayor and Commissioner Matt Aitken were tasked with meeting with downtown merchants to come up with that plan"

You can forget Matt Aitken doing ANYTHING that could cost him voters; I have known Matt personally for over 30 years, and he will compromise at the drop of a hat, and he will be GLAD to drop the hat.

The BEST thing the city could do right now.........is to stop the event, for say...6 months; troublemakers will find somewhere else to go and cause trouble..........THEN, if you want the event to come back, you will have ample time to restructure and organize better control. The bottom line on this deal right now is the bar owners. They do not want to lose a nickel, even if it puts people at risk. EVERYBODY knows that when you let people get DRUNK, things are easy to get out of control, yet.........we allow it and then complain and want "somebody else to fix it" when it happens.

allamr18
41
Points
allamr18 07/10/12 - 08:40 am
4
10
Lol Huh

"You are correct, it is the cause by the entitlement mentally that has been taught by the liberals/progressives mostly democrats and many black leaders for the last 40 years."

Lol come on now. You cant be serious. This is the south liberals/progressives have never been in charge down here. Name liberal or progressive policies that have influence increases in violence? What things are said by black leaders that promote entitlement mentality? and how does entiltlement enfluence violent behavior?
Really what needs to be addressed is where are all these guns coming from? And how are these kids gettin them?

scgator
1042
Points
scgator 07/10/12 - 08:45 am
4
3
Paperhearts

Some of what you say makes a little sense, however,

"Stop making these people that are just trying to hold their businesses together the enemy."

The WHOLE purpose of a BAR is to encourage people to drink alcohol; in turn the more they drink, the more they spend on alcohol, and the more of both that they do, the more out of control they become. As a result, the more this escalates, the better your chances become for issues like arguments, fights, shootings, etc.

But, with your "attitude"............you want all of us to just say "these are just good morale business people; fine upstanding citizens, not meaning to do any harm and JUST trying to make a living"

HOGWASH.......THEY ONLY MAKE MONEY, IF THEY ALLOW PEOPLE TO GET DRUNK AND AS A RESULT OUT OF CONTROL. AND CRIME MIGRATES TO WHERE THERE IS NO CONTROL.

Riverman1
79611
Points
Riverman1 07/10/12 - 09:00 am
10
2
Paperhearts

Both Margaret Woodard and Barry White. They would be better off running the carwash.

TParty
6003
Points
TParty 07/10/12 - 09:14 am
5
8
Such over reactions. So many

Such over reactions. So many people go downtown every day, with drinks being served every day, and for the most part nothing negative happens. I go downtown all the time- and never, ever had an issue. Nor anyone in my group.

This shooting was a rare event. This idea of closing up shop, because people are scared or don't like what people do with their free time is on the same plane as liberals who call for banning guns. It's just an over reaction, that will not solve anything, besides punish the VAST majority of good people who do and can conduct themselves properly.

There are other places to drink besides downtown- surely no one would also suggest shutting those places down too.

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 07/10/12 - 10:06 am
3
5
Overreaction

I think TParty is correct. So they had a melee in October of 2002 and a shooting in July of 2012. Though each of those two events was unfortunate, in the grand scheme of things two bad apples in ten years is not so bad. I'd say, let things stay the same.

Riverman1
79611
Points
Riverman1 07/10/12 - 10:07 am
6
1
T-Party said, "There are

T-Party said, "There are other places to drink besides downtown- surely no one would also suggest shutting those places down too."

Sure we would. It's done all the time when an establishment is having trouble inside or OUTSIDE. The Sheriff recommends to the Commission to shut them down.

blues550
355
Points
blues550 07/10/12 - 10:07 am
0
0
Hello?
Unpublished

These thugs were not drunk from being in a bar. They were not spending any money. Perhaps all of us should have paid more attention to ASU AD Cliff Bryant who has been warning of gangs for years.

Any tell you what Mayor, Sheriff, etc. - YOU are responsible. We have a reasonable expectation to be in relative safety downtown. No event organizer is responsible for that, YOU are.

As for the Art Council they only stepped forward when everyone else dropped the ball.

And there is much more at stake than a monthlky event. More and more good people are moving into downtown, investing their money in housing, business etc. Inc idents like this will certyainly not help this movement.

There is no simple solution except to cancel the event, and then a bunch of thugs win out.

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 07/10/12 - 10:10 am
4
1
Shut Down

You are talking about a single business establishment harboring trouble, RM. Examples are the club on Tobacco Rd. and the illegal club on Mike Padgett where the teenager was shot in the head in the parking lot. In those cases, the sheriff has a single business to point to, and the commission can take his advice and pull their business license or liquor license — or they can reject his advice as they sometimes do.

But in the case of First Friday, whose liquor license would you pull?

Riverman1
79611
Points
Riverman1 07/10/12 - 10:24 am
6
0
I'm not necessarily saying to

I'm not necessarily saying to pull anyone's license, but I am pointing out there's precedence for closing places with trouble whether inside or outside. The fact it is not only one establishment is involved here is not pertinent because this was such a horrendous event. Six shot. You could close more than one if you wanted. But my point is to stop First Friday all together. This is extraordinary and calls for looking at everything including the bars in the area although I'd hope getting people off the street would be enough.

By the way there have been many arrests at First Friday in the past. Police have been called many times besides the shootings.

itsanotherday1
40338
Points
itsanotherday1 07/10/12 - 10:37 am
7
1
I'm firmly with T'party and

I'm firmly with T'party and LL on this.The bar patrons aren't causing the ruckus, it is the aimless thug hanging out looking for trouble.

So, if we close it down; what message does it send to them? That they have the power to disrupt civil activities where ever they choose? Why shouldn't we send a message that YOU WILL NOT behave this way in civilized society?

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 07/10/12 - 10:37 am
4
0
Police have been called

Interesting how you say that police have been called to First Friday fracases. (I love alliteration.) They shouldn't have to be called because their presence should be evident all along the party atmosphere of Broad Street. As you said above, the deputies shouldn't hang out together in groups of four or five, instead they should spread out and be visible.

Little Lamb
43937
Points
Little Lamb 07/10/12 - 10:39 am
1
2
4000

Hey, RM, you hit a cool 4,000 points with your last post!

jbenny2010
239
Points
jbenny2010 07/10/12 - 10:41 am
2
0
I've been to First Friday

I've been to First Friday several times; it was great looking at the artwork being displayed and being able to talk with the artists on occasion. The concept is a good one; however, boundaries have to be set and maintained. The biggest problem is that though the Arts Council is very well able to supervise the event, the funds that DDA receives for First Friday were never turned over to the AAC. They don't have the funding to run the event properly.

I think that the concept needs to be revamped. The only way it will work is for the various city organizations to work together. First, get rid of Queen Margaret Woodard and her throne at DDA; next the Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council, the newly formed Downtown Advisory Panel and the Augusta Commission should come together to revamp and organize a family oriented monthly or weekly event that will focus on the downtown businesses.

The Midtown Market on Kings Way has First Thursdays which reminds me a lot of what First Friday used to be. They don't have the problem that downtown has because it is structured and it isn't held on Friday. Let's move the downtown event to another day of the week (not the weekend) and see if we can make it something to be enjoyed by all.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 07/10/12 - 10:41 am
4
0
As an individual, i'm going

As an individual, i'm going to go downtown despite that it has it's problems and there is an element of the unknown. I'm also in favor of other folks going downtown and spending their afternoons and evenings there. I think people should help create business and support business downtown. All of this should be done organically though. There is no reason normal humans can't handle going to downtown Augusta and we don't need a controlled/sterile environment to enjoy and develop it.

The solution = less is more. Since obviously putting more action and effort into creating a place where nothing bad ever happens failed repeatedly.

If everything you've ever done has resulted in the same result, try the opposite. Typically folks get skittish after something like this. Be a leader and go downtown even more. The outcome may surprise us all.

heirtoruin
21
Points
heirtoruin 07/10/12 - 10:44 am
6
1
I'd love to see someone try

I'd love to see someone try to shut down bars at 11 pm. That's pretty backwoods, if I may be so bold. Should this just apply to the first Friday of each month, or should bars downtown be forced to close at 11 pm every night? I can't believe I actually read that....

tgentry
231
Points
tgentry 07/10/12 - 10:56 am
4
1
First Friday Guardian Angels?

Ok I have the solution. We can do as New York did in the late 70s and 80s. Create Augusta Guardian Angles. Any volunteers? I say we get everyone on here together next first Friday. We stay downtown till oh 04:00 am and run everyone off the streets. Listen there is no reason to continue a defunct First Friday.

I do not know of any Art shop or vendors wanting to be open till 04:00 am. Downtown Augusta is a waste land. You have the shops from 13th street to what 9th street that are mostly occupied. How many are actually shops that are there for selling merchandise? Mostly you have the bars and restaurants in that stretch. First Friday was originally designed to bring back people to downtown to spend their money.

I say Downtown has nothing there to spend it on, other then liquor or food. Look at the facade of downtown. Who in their right mind wants to go somewhere that looks like the way Augusta does? Augusta you need to get a theme going. Make the current business owners clean up the facade of their establishments. Put in place a decent color scheme and historic scheme like Charleston.

Make all the current building owners accountable. There is nothing cool about downtown Augusta. Shoot you cant even see the River thanks to the levee. Riverwalk itself is in terr able shape. You want to bring money and control to downtown? Clean it up and they will come.

tgentry
231
Points
tgentry 07/10/12 - 11:05 am
4
0
Downtown Attractions

Some more thoughts. Downtown has beautiful store fronts the following are examples. You have the Great Bazzar, Reubens, and some red and yellow building on a corner that has been boarded up since I have been here. These listing are examples of me being facetious of course. Update people update your store fronts.

TParty
6003
Points
TParty 07/10/12 - 11:14 am
0
3
Yeah- Downtown Augusta is not

Yeah- Downtown Augusta is not a wasteland.

TParty
6003
Points
TParty 07/10/12 - 11:34 am
4
3
I seriously don't understand

I seriously don't understand how any of this talk about banning has any support. Some negative things have happened at schools- we don't ban kids from going to school. Bad things happened when people are behind the wheel- we don't punish everyone by banning cars. When the soldier shot a killed the Deputy Paugh, there was no talk about banning anything, or shutting down the base. Should Moultrie, Ga be shut down because of cockfighting?

allhans
23288
Points
allhans 07/10/12 - 02:15 pm
3
1
I agree with Riverman 10:24.

I agree with Riverman 10:24. He is dead right. Stop the madness.

The city doesn't need this event and neither does the community.
How will downtown ever thrive if this continues.

I made a trip to FF once. People pushing and shoving, just "hangin", we never saw a vendor, the bars were packed.
We walked down about three blocks, saw nothing but people, and more people.
We never went back.

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