Committee seeks to make all Fridays First Friday

Every Friday could be like First Friday in downtown Macon.

Persuaded by arguments that the popular event spurs economic development, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee approved an ordinance Monday to expand First Friday’s open-container privileges in downtown to every Friday evening. The full council would still need to approve the change before it could go into effect.

For the past several years on the first Friday of each month — with the open-container laws repealed between 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. — downtown businesses and organizations host activities and various entertainment offerings to coax more people downtown.

Originally, the committee on Monday was to consider a measure sponsored by Councilman Rick Hutto to add a Third Friday event, but council members decided instead to further expand the downtown gathering to every week. The once-a-week event had the push of NewTown Macon, an organization that works to revitalize downtown.

Councilman Charles Jones, who said before the meeting that he would only vote for a change if it made every Friday like First Friday, started the conversation.

“It’s like having church on the second and fourth Sunday,” said Jones, who pastors a local church. “I won’t be there drinking, but I won’t let ‘me’ get in the way of what’s best for the city.”

Committee Chairman Virgil Watkins asked Kris Hattaway, NewTown Macon’s director of place, whether the organization preferred the city to slowly add additional Friday events or directly move to every week.

“We would prefer every Friday,” Hattaway said, adding that NewTown is prepared to sponsor the event every week. That sponsorship would help pay for cleanup costs, she said.

Hutto initially said he recommended taking a graduated approach because he feared the move from one to four weeks would dilute the number of people coming out to enjoy the festivities. Councilwoman Elaine Lucas also urged caution, citing possible issues with policing.

Ultimately, the committee yielded to the wishes of NewTown Macon and the downtown merchants who attended the meeting.

Gary Schechterle said his restaurant, Lemongrass, experiences a “50 percent pop” on First Fridays, and though he doesn’t think the other Friday nights will be as big as First Friday, he said he’s ready for the city to move ahead with weekly downtown offerings.

Cesare Mammarella, who operates three restaurants downtown and a men’s clothier, said he understood the cautious approach but thinks the best move is to expand the event to every Friday. “And maybe in a couple of years we can add Saturdays,” he joked.

Police Chief Mike Burns, who was present at Monday’s committee meeting, said there shouldn’t be any problem staffing the additional Friday events. Keith Moffett, the mayor’s liaison to the council, said he didn’t perceive any problems as long as NewTown continued to sponsor the events.

Hutto also pointed out that First Friday offers many family-friendly events, such as those at the Cox Capitol Theatre and at Theatre Macon.

“It’s not just the bars and restaurants that are helped by this,” he said.

Alex Webb, who wasn’t at the meeting, co-owns the Synergy night club and said he hopes NewTown will invest in theme nights that are fun and connect with the people who live outside of downtown. Regardless, the move is one he supports “100,000 percent.”

“It’ll do nothing but help the downtown businesses,” Webb said. “It’s a win-win for us, a win-win for the city with taxes and all the way around.”

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.