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Friends of the Festival, the organization that produces several Chattanooga area entertainment events including the canceled Riverbend Festival, is planning to move ahead this weekend with the rebranded Riverfront Nights concert despite a new countywide mask mandate and a rule from city leaders that even a smaller event can't happen at Ross's Landing.

The group's executive director, Mickey McCamish, says he was prepared for both new rules.

"I have 18,000 masks in a warehouse prepared to give everyone who doesn't have one," McCamish said.

And he's applying to Hamilton County for approval to hold the smaller events — known as Chattanooga Unite — at the county-owned Tennessee Riverpark on Amnicola Highway. The event goes before the county commission on Wednesday, July 8, for approval.

"I always try to have a backup plan, or a couple of options out there," he said.

Camp Jordan is also an option, he said.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger announced on Monday that people in the county will be required to wear a face covering or mask in public to help curb the spread of the COVID-19.

However, masks are not required for people who are outdoors unless people are unable to "substantially maintain appropriate social distancing from others outside of the person's household." Masks or coverings should be accessible in case of an encounter with a larger group.

If approved by the commission, Saturday's event will start at 4 p..m. with a Kids' Talent Series Showcase of four young local performers. Chattanooga Unite will start at 7 with Heroes Program dedicated to first responders, followed by Queenston and then headliner the Heather Gillis Band.

Several local non-profits and vendors will be on hand with food and tents offering information. The park is dog-friendly and Tennessee American Water will create a VIP area for pets, who must be on a leash.

Earlier this week, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke issued Executive Order 2020-19, which halts all events permitting of 50 or more people until future notice.

"As we're seeing new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths continuing to rise locally, we do not feel it is in the best interest of public safety to permit large events," he said in the order.

In addition to Ross's Landing, where Chattanooga Unite was scheduled to take place over the next six Saturdays, the city also has jurisdiction over event spaces such as The Tivoli, the Walker Theatre and Memorial Auditorium and is currently not allowing event permits for city-owned venues, according to the city's communication director, Richel Albright.

McCamish said he believes that "the community needs a uniting and a healing event and we can do it in a safe way, with social distancing and following all of the protocols that are out there."

He said the friends group plans to follow all of the guidelines put forth by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and his Tennessee Pledge regarding entertainment events. These cover everything from making sure staff are not showing signs of being sick or running a fever to making sure hand sanitizer is available and that people socially distance themselves.

"We will go beyond the protocols that are out there," McCamish said.

The Riverpark can hold about 30,000 people normally for an event, and past Riverfront Nights shows drew between 1,500 to 2,500. It is also the scheduled location for Jfest, scheduled for Aug. 1.

Last year's Jfest festival, which features primarily contemporary Christian artists, drew about 9,500 people and organizers expect to limit it to that this year.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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