The future of First Friday is hanging in the balance after a shooting in July left six people injured. (WRDW-TV)
News 12 First at Five / Monday, July 16, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver announced plans to spend his own money to help bring in extra security for First Friday.
Shots rang out in downtown Augusta and left six people injured at the last First Friday event in July.
"We're going to make it a better event for downtown," said Copenhaver after a meeting with local business leaders.
The move comes after the sheriff issued an ultimatum to local merchants.
"If they want it," said Sheriff Ronnie Strength, "they should be paying for this. This is not a city-sponsored event."
"And so as business owners we are all going to kick in to get a couple extra cops down there to make things a little safer," said Alex Wier, a partner at Wier/Stewart on Broad Street.
Wier joined forces with other business owners to draft possible suggestions for First Friday. They are naming it the Respect Downtown Initiative. They suggest the "First Friday Official Event" run from 5 to 10 p.m.
"Businesses and vendors are welcome to collaborate on creating a positive sidewalk experience," reads a list of suggestions drafted by local business owners. "Side streets can be blocked off for live entertainment. Consider using the Augusta common for more family-friendly activities such as outdoor movies, concerts, fun kids zones and vendors."
They suggest vendors and side streets should be cleared by 10 p.m. The group also wants a visible police presence and suggests having law enforcement on foot between 13th and 7th streets. Safety ambassadors with the Clean Augusta Downtown Initiative are also suggested to be on hand to assist in cleanup and basic security until 3 a.m.
"I'm willing to strike a check myself to help with the efforts, and we'll get it done," said Copenhaver, who wants to bring in a professional management team to run the event. "I'm going to put up $5,000 of my own money."
Soul Bar co-owner Co Co Rubio has also taken to Facebook to spread the message about the Respect Downtown initiative. He says downtown will not just survive but thrive.
"I think it is important to respect downtown, and so we are going to making posters with this design," Rubio said. "I was asked that by the local newspaper and I thought that was a ridiculous question to ask ... if we're going to survive? We've been down here when there was nothing downtown."
This group welcomes the challenge of trying to find the best way to manage crowds downtown.
The mayor is encouraging business owners to donate to the community foundation to help fund security.