Jacksonville faces cleanup, questions

Budweiser workers handle kegs of beer Monday that were served during the Florida-Georgia game weekend at The Jacksonville Landing.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 12:20 a.m.
The floors were dirtier than he'd ever seen them.
Gregory Muhammad, who owns a cleaning company here, usually has the wood floors in Benny's Steak and Seafood in the Jacksonville Landing outdoor mall gleaming within two hours.
Monday, after a Florida-Georgia celebration that stained the floors practically black, it took Muhammad and his crew all day to make them shine.
The whole city on Monday struggled to recover from a game that left the Landing littered with beer bottles and the city riddled with questions about the death of a University of Florida student who was found unconscious in front of the CSX building about a block west of the Landing on Saturday night. Thomas Oliver Brown, a 23-year-old senior from Merritt Island, was pronounced dead at Shands Jacksonville about an hour after he was found.
Some Jacksonville residents and business owners complained that crowd control could have been better.
Others said the crowd itself seemed rowdier.
But most people said Brown's death was a tragic fluke, a product of an unusual set of circumstances that extra security guards or police officers couldn't have prevented.
"It was an isolated incident," Muhammad said. "I hate to hear that happening, because it's so bad for the city, and it's so different than what usually goes on here."
Many bars in the Landing were closed Monday for cleanup. The smattering of people who came for lunch anyway were mostly discussing Brown's death.
UF graduates Lauren Whalen, 23, and David Buckley, 23, who both live and work in Jacksonville now, have attended their share of Florida-Georgia celebrations at the Landing. Both said on Monday they were surprised a fight in such a busy area wasn't broken up immediately.
"Every year I came, people were pretty much peaceful," Whalen said.
Ashley Guinn, 20, and Todd Guggisberg, 25, worked in a T-shirt shop inside the Landing selling UF and Georgia goods the night of the game. Both said they saw lots of people being anything but peaceful.
"This is probably the worst year we've had for fights and craziness," Guinn said. "One of the cops who was working outside the store said that, that it was the worst night he'd seen. There were fights, there were people pouring beer on each other's heads. There were people peeing in the hallway. And I think it just gets worse every year."
Louis Benavides, a manager at Dona Maria's in the Landing, said he didn't think this year's game was any worse than last year.
But he said every year is rough, and said the atmosphere can create a dangerous situation.
"It's advertised as the biggest cocktail party in the world, and we all know what happens when you do that," Benavides said. "You get a bunch of drunk kids fighting about a really big rivalry. We get beer bottles thrown at us all the time. I'm surprised, with as many drunk kids as there are, that there aren't more bad things that happen."
For all the buzz at the Landing, the CSX building was quiet on Monday.
The only sign there had been trouble last weekend was an orange symbol painted on the pavement in front of the building. Security guards said that's where police found Brown unconscious.
CSX employees said they received a memo from company executives acknowledging the beating, but heard little else about it.
"I heard about it on the news today, and only later saw the memo," said Chris Weide, 46, who works in CSX's finance department. "I was as shocked and as upset as anyone else in the city, but I'm not any more worried because I work here. That's not something that normally happens."
The Landing, a collection of restaurants and shops on the St. Johns River in downtown, is quiet most weekends. The decks of its riverfront restaurants are rarely full, even on Friday nights.
Florida-Georgia is one of the few weekends to change that, as students and other fans flock to the open-air section of the mall for live music and drinks.
Loros Yousefzadeh, who owns Benny's Steak and Seafood and the Party Zone, said he can make as much on a Florida-Georgia weekend as he usually makes in a month, and said any consequences the party might bring are eclipsed by the economic boon.
"It's nothing but good for us here," Yousefzadeh said. "When you weigh out the negatives and the positives, there's just no comparison."
Trouble or not, almost everyone downtown on Monday shuddered at the idea of the game moving elsewhere, and not just because of the influx of cash. The game, Muhammad said, is a source of pride, fights and grimy floors notwithstanding.
"They did a job in here," Muhammad said. "But I welcome them, because they put us on the map. That game helps this city's image like nothing else. It's the best thing to happen to us all year."
Amy Reinink can be reached at (352) 374-5088 or reinina@gvillesun.com.

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