The Newnan Downtown Development Authority generally works to bring people downtown, but they are making one targeted exception – encouraging people to stay away from Greenville Street Park on April 21.
The DDA works with downtown merchants, sponsors programs that help with facade improvement and plans events in the downtown area. Last night’s Taste of Newnan was a Main Street event.
At the DDA meeting on Wednesday, the board discussed the plans by the National Socialist Movement, a white supremacist group, to hold a rally at Greenville Street Park on April 21 from 3-5 p.m. DDA member Graylin Ward asked what authority members’ responses should be if they are asked about the rally.
DDA member Jim Thomasson made a motion the board adopt the city’s official response. The motion was seconded by Brant Frost and passed unanimously.
The following statement is being used by members of the city’s management team in response to inquiries about the April 21 rally:
“The City of Newnan received a Pavilion Rental Agreement from the National Socialist Movement on March 5, 2018. Upon review for adherence to stated policies, the City of Newnan executed the Agreement on March 15, 2018. As stated in the agreement, the National Socialist Movement will be hosting a political rally between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. in Greenville Street Park on Saturday, April 21, 2018. The agreement states that the event will likely include 50–100 people.
“The City of Newnan, in consultation with numerous local, state and federal agencies, has developed a public safety plan that is designed to ensure the safety of our citizenry as well as the preservation of public and private property. The City of Newnan is aware of recent activities in our country that include the actions of similar protests and counter protests. The City of Newnan has a responsibility to protect free speech rights, the individuals and groups that chose to exercise those rights and the broader community in which those rights may be exercised. The City of Newnan is taking very seriously multiple concerns regarding the safety of all persons and property. In order to meet that obligation, the City of Newnan has been preparing a robust public safety plan. The City of Newnan is committed to ensuring public safety and will utilize the resources needed to execute the public safety plan.
“Numerous traffic detours and road closures will be in place on Saturday, April 21, 2018. In addition, a number of local, state and federal agencies will join the City of Newnan’s public safety personnel on Saturday, April 21, 2018 to provide for the successful management of the aforementioned event. At this time, the City of Newnan feels it is appropriate to close portions of Greenville Street, LaGrange Street and Salbide Avenue nearby, adjacent to and surrounding Greenville Street Park. Additional street closures may occur and may be announced at a later date. The City of Newnan recognizes the inconvenience the temporary street closures may create for residents and business alike; however, the City of Newnan feels it appropriate to promote public safety.”
In a meeting that also included discussion of alley improvements, the installation of bags for disposal of pet waste and the upcoming Tucked Away Music Festival, DDA members discussed issues related to the April 21 event.
“The city’s official response is stay away – stay away from the event,” Mayor Keith Brady said at the meeting. “We understand people have individual rights. … You have an individual right to do what you want to do.”
“This is not the time to be confrontational. It’s the time to stay home and stay away,” said Ray DuBose, who serves on the city council and the DDA.
Brady noted there had been a meeting earlier in the week between Police Chief Buster Meadows and downtown merchants.
“They had a lot of good questions about how things were going to unfold and how things will work that day,” Brady said.
Brady said that while the city is encouraging people to stay away from the rally, that is not a command. Nor is it a “stay in your house” recommendation. He said area residents should go where they want to go and do what they want on April 21 but not give fuel to the racist group by being in proximity to the rally.
“To keep our citizens secure and safe that day — that’s our number one objective,” Brady said. “There’s going to be a lot of law enforcement in town that day.”
While there have been some reports of large numbers of downtown businesses closing on April 21, it was emphasized that many downtown merchants will be open that day.
“We’re not directing them to do one thing or the other. We’re leaving that up to them,” Brady said.
“We’re going to be open,” said Casey Smith, chairman of the DDA and owner of Redneck Gourmet. “I feel confident the city’s going to take care of things.”
Smith said he had talked to other business owners who plan to be open on April 21. Some may close early or let some employees go home if there is little foot traffic.
Brady said people will begin to see preparations – delivery of barriers – “late Wednesday or Thursday morning.” Roads will not, however, be blocked until the day of the event.
There will be “the continued level of service we always maintain to the rest of the city,” Brady said. “We are not degrading the service to the rest of the city because of this.”
“The city has done a good job spearheading the response,” Smith said. “We stand behind the city.”
There was some discussion of events planned to bring people downtown to help businesses make up for potential losses because of close proximity to the rally. Courtney Harcourt, Main Street director, said the Newnan Strong event on Friday will be promoted on the Main Street website.
“It’s not a Main Street event, but we’re promoting it for them,” Harcourt said.