Dukes do downtown
It was a beautiful night for a walk. On Saturday, the last full day of 1787 August Orientation, James Madison University’s newest students joined President Alger to walk from campus to downtown to participate in the Block Party in the ‘Burg an event jointly sponsored by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the JMU Orientation office. “The university is deeply committed to community involvement and to being a good neighbor, so it is critical for us to introduce our new students to all that the city of Harrisonburg has to offer,” said Alger.
There was excitement in the air as the students, many dressed in purple and gold, chanted, sang and processed down Main Street carrying a banner that read “JMU Students Do Downtown.” As they walked the JMU group was met by Harrisonburg Mayor Ted Byrd and Eddie Bumbaugh, executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, to emphasize the connection between the university and community.
“It’s such a fun idea to get everyone together downtown,” said freshman Jessica Crowley from Winchester, Va. Crowley, like most new students, had never been downtown before and said, “it was good to orient ourselves with the downtown area. It was really nice just to be able to walk everywhere and have the shops open and all the vendors out handing out free stuff.”
Director of Orientation Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah said Crowley’s experience is exactly why the Block Party in the ‘Burg was created. “Orientation provides a perfect opportunity to introduce them to the City of Harrisonburg,” said McCoy-Ntiamoah. “Block Party in the 'Burg exposes students to what downtown has to offer as well as how they can become more engaged with the community.” HDR Special Events Manager Kim Kirk concurs, “We want Downtown to become a part of their college experience from the very beginning.”
Main Street and Court Square were closed off so that students and community members could wander around and enjoy local shops, restaurants and entertainment on stages at the Turner Pavilion and on Court Square. Harrisonburg Police and Fire Department took part in the Block Party with motorcycle, K-9 and seat belt safety and kitchen fire demonstrations. In addition, caricature artists, balloon artists, games and a photo booth were set up for the students to enjoy. Students were encouraged to complete the Dukes Do Downtown Bingo game and share their experience on social media.
Downtown business owner Aaron Ludwig said the event is a great opportunity for businesses to show students what they have to offer. He approached the event creatively by inventing Jacktown, a mash-up of his restaurants Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s, selling $1 fried Oreos and $1 Sticky Nugs out in front of the restaurants. Ludwig also set up corn hole boards and passed out free stickers at the Turner Pavilion to promote his businesses. “It's so great to see JMU and HDR collaborate on such a great event,” said Ludwig. “I was impressed with the new students’ participation and their excitement and we're pumped to have the new class in town.”
Based on the positive reaction from students and downtown business owners McCoy-Ntiamoh hopes the event will grow in the future. “It's my hope that we will eventually get to a point where 100 percent of downtown merchants and restaurants will participate,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for them to make their first impression on new students, and get them to become repeat customers.”
Alger summed up the event saying, “The walk downtown and ensuing festivities are a great way to emphasize the connection between the university and community. We want our students to be fully engaged citizens while they are here, and that means being active participants and contributors in the community of which we are a part. On behalf of the entire university, I want to thank the city, the mayor, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, and all the sponsors and volunteers who made this a meaningful and worthwhile event and who personify what it means to be the ‘Friendly City.’”
For more information on downtown Harrisonburg http://www.downtownharrisonburg.org/
By Paula Polglase (’92)(’96)
August 26, 2013