United Downtown parties canceled

Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.

For the past three years, attending United Downtown — a series of street parties held the Friday before University of Florida home football games — has been a popular way for fans to kick off the weekend's festivities.

They'll have to find another way to celebrate during the upcoming Gator football season, because United Way of North Central Florida, which hosted those events, has canceled United Downtown for this year.

Amy Azoulay, United Way's communications manager, said the organization's board of directors decided to cancel it to focus on other efforts.

"You know, we kind of were re-evaluating everything that's going on and we just decided to focus more on raising funds for our Community Investment Fund and our workplace campaigns," she said.

United Way's board of directors made the decision on Aug. 6 to cancel United Downtown, Azoulay said. The organization had planned to hold four events this football season, the first being on Aug. 29.

While it's possible United Way could bring back United Downtown in the future, it's just not in the cards right now, Azoulay said.

"It did require a lot of manpower from our team, and we don't have a very large staff, so our board members ultimately made the decision to not have it go on for this year," she said.

Although the street parties were free to attend, United Way did collect some money from beer and soda sales, she said. The goal, however, was more about raising awareness than raising money.

When United Downtown launched in 2011, it was the first time the city of Gainesville allowed open containers and beer sales on city streets.

Last year, United Downtown featured a beer garden hosted by Swamp Head Brewery and a play zone hosted by O2BKids, among other attractions.

Assistant City Manager Paul Folkers said United Downtown was appreciated by the community and will be missed.

"Certainly the city appreciated the efforts of United Way with creating the United Downtown event," he said.

From that standpoint, he said the city was disappointed United Downtown won't be happening this fall but also understood United Way's need to focus on its charitable giving campaign and other efforts.

Morgan Watkins is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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