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Downtown Businesses Raise Concerns of Planned Emancipation Park Rally

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Dozens of businesses are laying out their concerns over a planned rally at Emancipation Park next month.

A letter with 43 signatures, representing around 30 businesses in downtown Charlottesville, was sent out to officials and authorities Thursday, July 27.

Businesses are worried white activist Jason Kessler's Unite the Right rally poses a "significant risk to people and property in the downtown area."

The rally is scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, August 12, and is reportedly in support of keeping the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the park, previously known as Lee Park. Kessler estimates more than 400 will attend in support of the statue.

Authorities have told NBC29 that the park and surrounding area may be crowded with as many as 4,000 people, which includes an unknown amount of likely counterprotesters.

Thursday's letter states:

The event permit indicates that Kessler has no intention of preparing adequately for thousands of people to descend on Emancipation Park. There will be no toilets, no water, no food, inadequate shade, and not nearly enough room for his forecast number of attendees. By not addressing attendees’ basic needs, over a five-hour event, they will inevitably spill over to the surrounding area in order to have these needs met, bringing with them their penchant for violence and attendant counter-protesters. Sending hundreds of hungry, thirsty, overheated, overcrowded people roaming around downtown, looking for a fight, is a veritable tinderbox."

The letter mentions police officers suggesting to businesses that they close the day of the rally to avoid potential issues, which some establishments are doing, but many worry about cuts to revenue:

We can ill afford to lose a day’s business during our peak season - doing so could be the difference between profit and a loss for the month.

Citing specific regulations, the letter calls on officials to:

  • Ensure that there are tents adequate to shade attendees.
  • Ensure that adequate water is available.
  • Ensure that adequate toilet facilities are available.
  • Ensure that no sound amplification will be used, and enforce the 70 decibel sound-level limitation
  • Require the organizer to submit a security plan, to be reviewed and approved by the chief of police
  • Require the organizer to submit a health plan, to be reviewed and approved by the Virginia Department of Health
  • Consider moving the event to an alternate location that can handle the number of attendees, such as a larger city park.
  • Ensure that all fees are paid - the street closing fee, and the security deposit for the use of park areas - so that the organizer will have an incentive to exercise proper care for Emancipation Park and the surrounding area.

According to the letter,

Our businesses collectively stand to suffer substantial financial harm, and our customers and tenants will be exposed to significant personal risk and consequently expose both us and the city to liability, if you do not follow the practices prescribed by law.

The letter was sent to Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas, Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville Parks & Recreation Director Brian Daly, City Manager Maurice Jones, City Attorney S. Craig Brown, and the Virginia Department of Health.