SGA to brand downtown ‘college town’

A UNA bus travels its route through downtown Florence. The UNA Student Government Association is trying to bridge the gap between UNA and downtown.

As part of an ongoing community and campus-wide effort to brand Historic Downtown Florence as a “college town,” the Student Government Association along with Florence Main Street will host the first “UNA Night in Downtown Florence” event from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 13, sponsored by the UNA Division of Student Affairs.

Think First Fridays: college edition, officials said. It’s a night designed totally for college students, said SGA President Will Riley.

Select restaurants will provide discounts and offers to students, while several retail stores will have extended hours.

SGA has lined up musical artists Madeleine Frankford, Spanish Castle Magic, and Gnarly Charlies to perform at Mobile Plaza beginning at 6 p.m.

The University Program Council will be handing out spirit gear for that Saturday’s football game, Riley said.

Riley said the event is part of a series of efforts to create a downtown atmosphere that is more enjoyable for students.

He also said the event is partly a response to a marketing research study conducted in spring 2010, which found that UNA students are shopping around Cox Creek Parkway and Regency Square Mall, bypassing the downtown area completely.

“The goal of the evening is to make students more aware that they can eat, shop, and have fun downtown,” Riley said.

He presented the idea in May at a public meeting hosted by Florence Main Street, an organization dedicated to revitalization and restoration of downtown Florence. Since then, SGA has been organizing the event with Executive Director Teryl Shields.

Shields has also been working to bridge the gap between UNA and downtown, which she blames partly on the misconception that shopping downtown is out of a student budget. She believes students will be attracted to the promotions and entertainment offered throughout the evening.

“We are a college town because we have a college in our midst, but we don’t necessarily behave like a college town because the stores aren’t always open at the time that the student population is functioning,” Shields said. “We just want to expose (students) to all that downtown Florence has to offer. Our downtown is a great place to shop, dine and just be.”

Riley said this is the first time that representatives from UNA have coordinated an event with the city of Florence to promote student engagement in the downtown area.

The shuttle bus will be providing transportation downtown from the residence halls from 5 p.m. until midnight.

On The Rocks and FloBama will be providing drink specials later that night, Shields said.

If all goes according to plan, Riley said he wants to make College Night an annual or even monthly affair.

“We’re in the beginning stages of development, and we’re basically just trying to make downtown a true college town,” Riley said.