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Friday, July 20, 2012 - 10:47am

Augusta Weighs First Friday Event

Augusta has been debating the future of its First Friday festival after a shooting earlier this month left six people injured. Officials talked about how to continue the monthly event at a series of meetings this week.

Officials chafe at linking the shooting to the First Friday event; it actually happened after the festival was over. But it has sparked conversations about ending the event, increasing security, or even dividing it into a family-friendly festival in the evening and an adults-only event at night.

The sheriff, city officials and downtown businesses met Wednesday night to talk about the festival and the health of Augusta’s downtown. Augusta-Richmond Commissioner Matt Aitken said giving up on the event could lead to worse problems.

“One thing you don’t ever show in a community [is] you’re weak on anything that someone can come over and dictate what they’re gonna do because you just canceled something. You know, I see it in neighborhoods as a commissioner. People don’t get engaged in their neighborhoods and then other elements come in and take over,” said Aitken, whose district includes downtown.

He said the violence linked to First Friday contributes to downtown’s image problem. He hopes the merger of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University will help bring new life and development downtown.

“[GHSU is] going to be a major player because they just inherited 17 acres from the state properties commission, so they’re figuring out how to develop that, which is only several blocks from the trade and exhibition center,” Aitken said.

City officials are planning to meet next week to offer specific ideas for continuing the First Friday festival and improving impressions about downtown.

Police blamed this month’s shooting on gang activity but said the downtown area is safe.