If First Friday continues, it will be business-funded

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September 29, 2006

First Friday in downtown Augusta is changing.

Next Friday's event will be the last sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority.

Where do we go from here?

For the last fifteen years, local businesses have looked to the first Friday of every month to boost business and revenue...but next Friday will be the last First Friday sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority.

The news brought some mixed reactions around town today.

"You can't quash First Friday," said Blue Horse manager Jason Barron.

"I love first Friday and I hope it doesn't go away," said loyal patron Christina Maddox.

But the DDA's decision to pull the plug on funding may do just that.

"Well I was kind of disappointed," said Michael Yonesaki, owner of the Metro Coffee House. "Most businesses downtown benefit from First Friday, and I know they don't make enough money for it, and if it's a matter of survival for them then they need to reevaluate what they are really here for.

"If they are thinking about even the possibility of canning it, that is pretty ridiculous," Barron said. "That is pretty much like saying poo poo on all the arts in Augusta."

But not all artists are sad about the news. Frameworks owner Shishir Chokshi says First Friday is not the art event it started off as.

"The whole character of the event is based on retail, and it's a shame...and you lose the magic, you lose the spark, you lose all the reasons you brought all those people down in the first place," he said.

But some local business owners say the event, and others like it, are crucial to downtown's growth.

"Fifteen years ago you didn't come downtown," Yonesaki said. "And if you’re hoping for a Soho or East Village or downtown Athens or Virginia Highlands, then you have to develop the entertainment industry."

In order to keep First Friday, local businesses will have to pay all costs...and some people don't think they should.

"I think the businesses will continue the tradition, but they are already saddled with high property taxes or get much support from the local government as it is, so I think it would be nice if the government would help support them," Maddox said.

Yonesaki of Metro Coffee House says they will do what they can to keep the tradition alive.

"First Friday will always be First Friday, and I think it is a tradition that is greater than the budgetary concerns of one organization," he said.

Next Friday, October 6, will be the last First Friday sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority. Only time will tell if the event can survive without their support.

Increased crime downtown has been a concern, but the DDA says their decision was strictly a financial one. We do know some of the cost incurred was the amount of security present at the event, which increased as the years went on.