Hull Road as well as Southwest 34th Street between Southwest Second Avenue and Southwest 20th Avenue will be closed for the majority of today because of the scheduled appearance at the University of Florida by white nationalist Richard Spencer, of the National Policy Institute, and the expected demonstrators.
“We’re closing down 34th for the safety of pedestrians crossing the roadway,” said Chip Skinner, a city of Gainesville spokesman. “It’s to allow people attending the event or protesting the event to cross the road safely without impacting traffic in the area. So we’re just taking precautionary measures to get people back and forth across the roadway.”
A few businesses in the 34th Street Plaza south of campus will be closed today in anticipation of the crowds and parking issues. Those businesses are: Star Nails, Supercuts, A-1 Alterations and Tailoring, and Aquatropics.
“We were trying to decide whether we should close because of whether it shows fear or support for love and freedom,” said Karen Zaffke, who owns Aquatropics with her husband, Matias. “I just hope Gainesville is united behind equality.”
The Zaffkes were concerned that event-goers would resort to parking in the plaza once the Phillips Center’s and Hilton hotel’s lots filled up, leaving the potential for conflicts outside their storefront.
“I’m going to board up my store, but I’m afraid it’ll communicate that there could be a negative event and can encourage people to be aggressive,” Matias Zaffke said. “That’s my fear. I don’t want to give people the idea.”
Matias Zaffke also suggested to plaza management that all objects that could be thrown be removed.
“I told them, ‘You remove them, or I will,’” he said.
However, other businesses in the plaza, including Bagels Unlimited, will remain open today. Owner John Hill said the restaurant’s proximity to the event will draw in many customers.
“I’m optimistic. I don’t think the business will be damaged,” Hill said. “But since we’re so close, and all these people are coming out, people might be hungry.”
Nevertheless, Hill said he might close early if the situation turns dangerous.
“I think everyone has a right to freedom of speech, but I don’t think it’s right to hurt or damage anyone else,” he said. “I’m just happy it’s going to be in a contained atmosphere.”
Meanwhile, at nearby apartment complex Museum Walk off Southwest 34th Street, resident Jessica Lewert, a bioengineering student at UF, expressed concerns about the road closures.
Lewert told her professors that she will be missing class because bus routes that drive through the impacted area won’t be running. She also said she is not comfortable riding her skateboard to campus because of the proximity of her apartment to the event itself.
“It’s a little unnerving to see hundreds of cops outside where I live, but it’s good to see so many precautions being taken,” Lewert said. “As much as I think it’s important to protest, it’s too scary with guns and bombs to get involved. And it sucks that people who believe the right thing can’t show it without being afraid they’re going to get hurt.”