Jerzees Sportsbar & Nightclub Open in Downtown Athens

     The clock strikes eleven. Staff members quickly move to put away tables and chairs which once held families sharing a dinner out. The lights dim, and the televisions begin flashing dance videos. A fun, cozy restaurant is converted into a sleek, trendy nightclub.
    This projected model of restaurants that become clubs at night is thought to be an emerging trend across the globe, according to Restaurant Management Magazine and Nightclub & Bar Media Group.Restaurants in major cities such as Las Vegas, New York City, and Rome have been using this model to appeal to two different audiences of people, according to travel promotions in these cities. Jason Cruz and his partner are bringing this trend to downtown Athens.
    Cruz is the co-owner of Athens’ newest venue, Jerzees Sportsbar & Nightclub. Jerzees houses a family-friendly restaurant during the day and converts into a club complete with dance floor at night.  
    “We wanted to build a place where everyone can come in and feel comfortable,” said Cruz. “Its a place where families can come to watch a game and have dinner, and at night it will turn into a club.”
    “Yeah,” interjected Jarrod NeShawn Miller, the bar manager of Jerzees. “There are places in Atlanta that do this. Its pretty tight.”
    Cruz believes Jerzees will be a venue that appeals to a large audience of people.  The Baltimore native is looking to make the restaurant and nightclub a place for both the students and local Athens residents. Being new to Athens, Cruz feels he can bridge the gap that is between locals and students by listening to both groups.
    Cruz knows what his he doing having had plenty of experience working in the bar and restaurant business. Cruz first got his start in 1987 as a DJ and soon decided to work his way into the management side of the business. He worked as a consultant for other bars in Baltimore before opening his first club in 2005.
    The idea for Jerzees came about last year when Cruz’s business partner brought him to Athens realizing it was a busy town with a lot of potential. The duo needed someone who knew the downtown Athens community, so Miller was brought into the project to be the in town consultant.
    “I had worked management at another bar downtown for about five years before meeting Jason’s business partner last summer,” said Miller. “I as the in town consultant at first, and then I brought in as the bar manager. I saw this as a great opportunity and jumped on it.”
    The team found a location on Clayton Street and realized the value of creating a venue that related to the sports teams at the University and nightlife downtown.
    “We saw there was a need for a venue for people who wanted to watch the game, but didn’t get tickets,” said Cruz. “We plan on covering all of the UGA sports teams like gymnastics and basketball. We will also have major coverage of the Olympics this summer.”
    “This is a place where you can watch any game and not have to pay an arm and a leg to get a drink. Plus you can eat lunch or dinner here,” said Miller.
    Jerzees will serve wings, burgers, cheese steaks, personal pizza, and other bar foods. Cruz wants to put some Baltimore favorites on the menu as well.
    “We are going to take what we know and bring it here. There is a famous sauce in Baltimore that we put on steamed crabs. We are going to use that sauce on the wings here. It will be a Baltimore menu item,” said Cruz.
    The kitchen will remain open at night selling personal pizzas after Jerzees changes from restaurant to nightclub.
    “After you get done dancing for the night, you don’t have to go wait in line at like the Grill or somewhere. You can just get your personal pizza here to and eat in the cab on your way home,” said Miller.
    Jerzees is also looking to bring large name entertainers and sports stars to Athens such as Jersey Shore cast members and Evander Holyfield, according to Cruz.   
    “We want to make ourselves a destination place downtown,” said Miller. “Lots of things we are doing here haven’t been done in Athens. We want Jerzees to make a statement downtown.”

Kony 2012 in Athens

    A 29 minute video called Kony 2012 went viral the first week in March. Social media and news organizations in Athens and around the world buzzed about the video created by Ben Keesey, the executive chief officer of Invisible Children.
    The video called for volunteers to make the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony, as famous as celebrities such as George Clooney in an attempt to have the war criminal captured, according to the Invisible Children website.
    Anna Jolley, co-president of the University of Georgia chapter of Invisible Children, was not as pleased with Kony 2012 because she reluctantly admitted she did not personally agree with the cause. “The goal of the video was to inform people. It was a great viral campaign, but I don’t think it did a good job at explaining the situation.”
    The video directed volunteers to the Invisible Children website to purchase posters, yard signs, and stickers that advertise the Kony 2012 brand. The goal of the campaign, according to Keesey and the organization website, is to display memorabilia in communities in a nationwide event on April 20th called Cover the Night. The event is meant to bring attention to the cause in order to draw the attention of political leaders who could make a difference in the world.
    “Invisible Children uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity,” says the organization website.
    Volunteers in Athens were interested in the campaign after the video went viral, according to Jolley.
    “I was getting about 20-25 emails and Facebook messages a day about Kony 2012,” said Jolley. “There was a large interest of people. It was a little overwhelming.”
    Multiple Facebook groups dedicated to Cover the Night in Athens have surfaced as a result of the video although these groups are not associated with the University Invisible Children organization, according to Jolley. These groups are created by volunteers who want to raise awareness by covering downtown Athens with posters of Kony, according to the event descriptions on the social media site.     
    Groups of five “roadies” are traveling across the United States assisting volunteers with their role in the movement. The roadies will give a presentation in Athens on April 17th, according to roadie and University of Georgia alum, Danielle Discepoli.
    “The roadies will be doing a 50 minute presentation at Memorial Hall. Basically the presentation starts with a short intro by one roadie, and they will show the film KONY 2012,” explained Discepoli. “After that their Ugandan teammate, Santo, will share a little bit of his story of growing up and living during the conflict in Northern Uganda. After that there will be time for questions, and they will conclude. There will be a merchandise and information table set up for people to buy Action Kits, tshirts, bracelets, etc.”
     Jolley does not agree with the idea of Cover the Night worrying it could lead to vandalism in Athens. “Cover the Night is a waste of time and money. The policy makers already know about Kony. They have not been ignoring the issue. Cover the Night is also a waste of money that could go to the field. I wish the organization would use the time and effort to effect change.”
    Other University students also found fault with the campaign. “I agree that Kony is a bad man,” said sophomore Lacey Kincheloe. “I just don’t agree with Invisible Children. Not all of their money goes towards the kids. I would rather give my money to help the kids than give money to make a video or sponsor the roadies.”
    Jolley discussed the goals and upcoming events of Invisible Children at the University in a meeting on Monday. The main goal of the organization is to continue informing the masses about Kony through video screenings and preparation for the events in April including the visit from the roadies and a bake sale to raise money for the cause.
    More informative videos were also shown at the meeting to show the progress of the campaign. A short video released this week announced that the campaign has been the driving force between two resolutions in the House and Sentate. A sequal to the Kony 2012 video was also announced in the video.
    The meeting also discussed  the response Invisible Children has issued on their website to the recent criticism. The rebuttal includes information about the organization’s finances, responses to questions raised by the video, and more information about the goals of the campaign.
    Jolley encouraged anyone with questions about Invisible Children and what the organization does at the University to contact her. “I know there has been a lot of negative publicity in the news lately, and it can be hard to talk to people about the cause when all they have been exposed to is the bad stuff.” 

Athens Area Attractive Location for Reality Television

Danielle Foley, a 21 year old University student seemed anxious to be interviewed for a new MTV reality show that was holding a casting call in the Silver Dollar bar in downtown Athens.
A number of others joined Foley signing release forms and waiting to be interviewed in front of numerous cameras.
They downed many drinks while they waited to be called back by show producers.
Casting calls and film crews have become a frequent scene in Clarke County as the Athens area has become increasingly popular for reality television and film production.
Georgia is currently the fourth largest location for film production in the country, according to the state website. Georgia has set up tax incentives and the Camera Ready Communities program, which connects productions with local film liaisons around the state.
“Athens-Clarke county recently became “Camera Ready”. The “Camera Ready” program was designed to “train and certify Georgia counties to work effectively with production companies and provide local, one-on-one assistance in every aspect of production, from location scouting and film permits to traffic control, catering and lodging,” according to the state website,” adds Darien LaBeach, University student and founder of local Athens production company, Society of Greater Things.

These programs attract production and filming and build the Georgia economy. Exactly 336 productions were filmed in the state in the 2011 fiscal year and the state earned a revenue of approximately $2.1 billion from film productions.
Athens-Clarke County is an attractive destination in the state for filming due to its concentration of entertainment venues, the University of Georgia, and historic locations, according to Film Athens, a non-profit organization that seeks to highlight Athens as a friendly location for filming.
“We’re the smallest couty in the state, but we have 37 venues for music and 550 bands, We have two opera companies, three symphonies, at least four independent theaters, a bus system, gardens, coffeehouses, great restaurants, music, piercings, conservatives, liberals, athletes. We have everything here,” Leara Rhodes, a professor at the University told Film Athens.
There are plenty of opportunities in the Athens area to participate in reality television and other film productions. New opportunities appear constantly on the Film Athens website.
“The attraction of one of the top party schools in the nation caught the attention of MTV, according to show producers. “I think MTV picked Athens because the students here know how to party, and we have a lot of bars and events that could be cool as the background for a reality show,” said Foley.
Casting took place in downtown Athens for the new reality show hosted by MTV personality Isaac Stout, who is the co-owner of the Bad Manor bar in Athens. The new show is titled “The Diesel Bus.” Cast members of the show would be filmed riding the party bus with friends from Athens to Atlanta, said producers. Cast members would also compete in challenges while on the bus. The show is also going to be used as a casting for possible cast members on other MTV reality shows such as “The Real World.”
Party goers were attracted to casting for the show. “I like to party. I have always wanted to be on the Real World. I have been told I do outrageous and fun stuff. I would love to make a career out of being wild and crazy like my idol, Snooki,” said Foley.
“I found out about the show through word of mouth. I wanted to do something spontaneous. I really love reality television especially MTV. I think I would be perfect for this show,” said David Phillips, another university student at the casting call.
Foley and Phillips were asked questions about her party habits and personality at the casting. Both were excited about the possibility of being on television to party. Producers were looking for Athen’s wildest and craziest partiers to cast for the show.
Not all Athens residents were happy to hear about the idea of bringing more attention the party scene in the area. “Terrible, terrible, terrible idea,” said Ivey Hamby, digital director of niche publications at the Athens Banner-Herald. “No girl wants to get sloppy drunk on a bus, do idiotic things, and put it out there for their grandma to see.”
“Only positivity can come from the increase of films and tv shows in Athens. As long as there aren’t any Jersey Shore remakes in my personal opinion. Sure a lot of students watch those shows and act very similarly to the actors on those shows, but they aren’t the true Athenians for the most part. Plus, if you consider what’s happened to the cast of Jersey Shore, they are no longer allowed to film in the area the show once took place. For instant claim to fame (in my opinion infamy) shows like that should come for a little while and then move on. But I would much rather see full length feature films filmed in Athens. I feel like the arrival of people looking to make such films would also serve to advocate the preservation of much of what downtown Athens has stood for and discourage big box stores like Walmart from coming,” adds LaBeach.
Other reality television shows casting and filming in the Athens are not as contriversal. The History Channel’s “American Pickers” is a show in which the two hosts travel the country looking for hidden antiques that could be restored into a treasure, according to the show’s website. Syfy’s “Haunted Collector” is a show that focuses on searching for ghosts, according to the show’s Facebook page.
These producers were drawn to the area for the rich history in the Athens. The city has 38 nationally registered historic sites and 15 nationally designated historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Film Athens.
“It’s a great opportunity for scenes from Athens to be out there on the national stage. Scenes of Athens’ beauty and great collections that people have would stir potential visitors to maybe come to the antique shops and search for their own treasures,” Hannah Smith, communications manager for the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Athens Banner-Herald.
“There are so many amazing locations for films that are unique to this area that people wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else, which makes anything produced here very original and authentic,” says LaBeach.
Foley will know in the next few weeks if she will be a castmate on “The Diesel Bus” reality show, but if she is not picked as a castmate, another reality show will probably hold casting call in the Athens area soon.

Audit finds pretrial program to be successful

A University of Georgia student, age 18, nervously stood in front of the municipal court judge’s bench with a host of peers. The student had been arrested for the first time and charged with minor in possion a month prior. Others surrounding the judge’s bench shared similar experiences. Now, the first time offenders were all being placed on the Athens-Clarke County pretrial diversion program.
In pretrial diversion, first time offenders under the age of 21 are given the opportunity to have the charges against them dropped after paying fees and completing a meticulous checklist of requirements. Pretrial began to be strictly enforced in 2008 when the government took away control of the probation progams from private sectors.
“The pretrial program is a way for students to avoid a record with consequences through fines and community service,” said Eric Eberhardt, a partner at the Eberhardt & Hale, L.L.P. law firm in Athens. The rigorous program is expensive and time consuming, but it does produce a long term benefit for both the participants and the community.
The student, who entered pretrial diversion, faces costs of approximately $600 minium for completing the program. The fee to enter pretrial is around $300. The student will then pay $30 per month probation fee. An alcohol and drug awareness course is a requirement of the program and costs $115 through the university health center.
Many participants of the program and students are under the impression the Athens-Clarke County government uses the program as a method of exhorting money from first time offenders.
“I could’t believe how expensive it was to go through the probation process. I have had friends receive tickets for minor in possession that cost half of what I paid. I think this is just how the poorest county in Georgia makes its money,” said an anonymous student, who completed the pretrial program.
Athens-Clarke Auditor John Wolf completed an audit report on the program which showed this popular belief to be untrue. The probation program collected $922,000 in total fees last year, according to the audit. The program is government-run and required $804,000 to run leaving a $116,000 profit for the general county fund. That profit is equal to only about two percent of the county’s revenue. Superior Court Judge David Sweat even told commissioners the program should not be a revenue generator for the local government at a May 2009 budget hearing, reported the Athens Banner-Herald.
Hours of community service and probation meetings are another aspect of the pretrial program. The student must donate time to working for a specific charity or organization that is recommended and approved by the court system. The community service projects include volunteering with the homeless and animal shelters or beautifying public areas such as parks and highways. The student will also meet monthly with a probation officer to report the progress in the pretrial program. The student could be subjected to random drug testing during these monthly meetings. The student must also follow the strict rules of probation which include avoiding venues which sell alcohol and keeping out of legal trouble during the probation period. Failure to follow these guidelines result in removal from the program, and the student would again face charges.
The number of community service hours completed by probationers has more than doubled since 2008 when the government began running the probation program, according to the audit. The percentage of people completing the program has also increased from 70 to 90 percent.
“Certainly, with the large number of cases we have, they are handling it beautifully,” said Clarke County Solicitor C.R. Chisholm, who prosecutes misdemeanors. “We are seeing increased compliance and increased accountability on the part of the probationers.”
If the student completes the program, they have the charges dropped. The arrest can also be expunged off the student’s record in a few years at the age of 21 as long as the student does not get into trouble with the court again.
“Pretrial gives students the ability to avoid consequences that could keep them from getting a job or a chance at other future opportunities,” said Eberhardt.
So far, the rehabilitation pretrial program of the court system seems to benefit both probationers and the community. “Most people complete it and most people we don’t end up seeing again. We’re not trying to get the conviction as much as trying to change the behavior,” the Solicitor General told the Red & Black.
“It is a relief not to have one mistake hanging over my head for the rest of my life,” said the anonymous student, who went through pretrial. “Although the program was a pain, I am happy to have the incident behind me and a clean record.”