The organization that put Fridays After 5 on the map – and downtown Charlottesville– finally called it quits last week.
"It wasn't a difficult decision for us," says Charlottesville Downtown Foundation board member Tony LaBua, who told The Hook before Christmas the organization was looking at several survival options, such as sharing office space with another nonprofit and finding an alternate venue for Fridays After 5.
One option didn't play out: Working with concert promoter/real estate mogul Coran Capshaw, to whom the city turned over management of the amphitheater in a long-term lease last year.
When Fridays After 5 started in 1988, the mission of the Downtown Foundation (and its predecessor, Charlottesville Downtown, Inc.) was pretty clear: to attract people to an often-deserted downtown.
"CDF accomplished an awful lot over the years," says Kirby Hutto, who ran CDF from 1992 to 1996 and is now general manager for Capshaw's Pavillion LLC.
"We've succeeded in increasing revenue and bringing people to the Downtown Mall," says LaBua. "With the time, effort, and energy it takes us to do it, why beat our heads against the wall?" asks LaBua. "They're professionals. It's time to bring it to the next level."
And bringing it to the next level was a reason often cited by city officials as the impetus behind the decision to have Capshaw run the amphitheater.
As popular as Fridays After 5 has been, its management has faced controversy throughout much of its 17-year history. In 1991, City Council offered $150,000 in seed money if CDF could raise matching funds, but the group had trouble raising that money.
The next year– 1992– was the summer of the missing beer scandal, which had police investigating a $20,000 discrepancy between poured beer and revenues. No criminal charges were filed, and the discrepancy was chalked up to split beer and poor accounting of ticket sales.
The ambitious Blues Festival in 1993 lost $10,000, and went into the hole again the following year before being canceled in 1995.
And in 2003, the financially challenged Downtown Foundation faced a double whammy, one of its own creation and one from a higher power. First, the Foundation made the unpopular decision to charge an admission. And a slew of rain cancellations topped by Hurricane Isabel and the postponement of 1980s supergroup Foreigner– on a day that dawned bright and clear– finished a season that was another financial flop.
And then came the Capshaw factor, which seemed to sound the Foundation's death knell. Offers from the Capshaw group for CDF to handle the volunteers who worked Fridays apparently weren't enough to entice the organization to continue.
"Pick a controversy," says LaBua. "We've risen above that to fulfill the city's mission. And we feel a sense of accomplishment. It's time to move on and let someone else do it."
The decision to disband was made not with bitterness, says LaBua, but with a sense of "relief" and "joy" for board members looking forward to getting their spring and summer back.
However, "I don't think there will be a Fridays After 5," he says. "That's my opinion. I think your days of free concerts are long gone."
"That's simply incorrect," says Hutto. "Coran has been as clear as can be. We're going to continue a Friday evening concert with local bands that's free and open to the public."
And he says the nonprofit groups that worked Fridays in the past "absolutely" will still have a role in the event. "They can contact me at 817-0220," he says.
As reported in the Hook in December, work on the amphitheater will not be completed in time for the season to begin in the spring, and Hutto says a temporary venue is nearly sewn up.
Still in play is the Fridays After 5 name. "It's up for sale," says LaBua. "We're selling it to get out clean and pay our bills." He says two non-local groups have expressed interest in it.
Hutto is willing to talk to CDF about acquiring the name. "It's a tradition, and you know how valuable tradition is in Charlottesville," he says. "Then again, maybe it's time for a new name to reflect the new venue."