A lot of people have a lot of ideas with how to “fix” First Fridays. One of the most popular is closing off Broad Street during the art walk. But exactly how feasible would this be? How much does it cost (and who has to foot the bill) to make it happen?
“People don’t understand; you can’t just close down a major thoroughfare,” says Major Michael Shamus of the Richmond Police Department in a telephone interview. “We have an obligation to citizens to have a safe event.”
What he’s talking about, specifically, is closing down Broad Street. One of the most talked about proposals that Richmonders have put forth to ameliorate the current crowd issues recently afflicting First Fridays has been to close down the stretch of Broad Street where the art walk takes place. The thinking is that the opened space would better accommodate the increasing crowds, and better crowd control would make First Fridays safer and more enjoyable.
Unfortunately, just as Maj. Shamus affirms, Broad Street is a major road among Richmond’s vast artery-like streets. Closing it down, even for a short length of time, would cause a serious blockage. Bus routes and emergency routes (which include fire, ambulance, police, and public works) would have to be reassigned. Signs that redirect vehicles and pedestrians also need to be printed and placed along the proposed site. In addition, off-duty police offers need to be hired and compensated with increased off-duty wages.
“It’s going to cost money,” says Maj. Shamus, bluntly.
Sponsors, Shamus tells me, typically “reimburse” the city when an event requires street closures. To stage the annual Richmond Marathon, Sports Backers pays for the logistical services and manpower that the city provides them. Ray Patterson, the Community Affairs Manager at Sports Backers, reinforces Maj. Shamus’ assessment: “It’s not cheap.” For instance, a police officer receives $28 per hour, and must work a minimum of four hours per shift.
In addition to funding, Patterson is well aware of the logistical difficulties that comes with accommodating large crowds. The finish line at the annual Richmond Marathon is typically surrounded by a large and energetic collection of people. “We have a lot of barricades that we use for crowd control,” says Patterson. “You want to control your crowd: confine them or direct them.”
He says the Richmond Police Department are not the only ones needed to make sure a successful street-closing event takes place. A firm such as P.D. Brooks are typically needed to handle signage and various traffic and pedestrian control equipment. “It’s not something you can take lightly,” says Patterson of street closures. He is also aware of what closing a section of Broad Street would do. “You basically close down a corridor.”
Closing just the 100-300 blocks of W. Broad Street for the recent Broad Appetite festival required a similar payment on part of the organizers to the city. The final reimbursement to the Richmond Police Department amounted to $3320.00. “There’s a lot of different dynamics” to consider, says Shamus, before blocking off even a small section of a street. Closing down a longer section of E. Broad for a First Fridays event would almost certainly exact larger costs.
He tells me that one dynamic to consider is how the event itself may change. “When you close a street down like [Broad Street],” says Shamus “…it becomes more of a party atmosphere.”
Shamus has coordinated and overseen many of Richmond’s most popular public events. He has handled gubernatorial inaugurations, VCU basketball events during the NCAA tournament, protests and marches, as well as presidential visits. “Each one is different,” he says.
He is by no means against making changes to First Fridays, and he also affirms that “the decision’s not mine” in making any alterations. But, he is cautious of the many practical and financial implications.
“The art walk has grown,” he says. “I think that’s a good thing.” He admits that closing the streets seems to be, ostensibly, a useful idea. “On the surface it looks fine,” he says. But adds that “it’s a whole lot of planning, and it costs money.”
Although the city has sponsored events before, footing the bill of any accrued costs, there are no current proposals for the city to sponsor closing Broad Street for the First Fridays Art Walk. Shamus also tells me that no permits have been filed by anyone to undertake a closing, irrespective of funding.
photo by Leah Small