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Big crowds, extra security ready as Labor Day weekend kicks off

There will be college football fans, sci-fi fanatics, black pride revelers and avid readers — thousands of them. And they’ll all be in and around Atlanta this weekend for events as diverse as the city itself.

“It’s always fun to watch the football teams’ fans come into their hotels not knowing what’s going on,” Atlanta police Deputy Chief Scott Kreher said of the Labor Day weekend convergence. “And they run into DragonCon and the parade and the costumes.”

As many as 300,000 are expected to hit Atlanta streets both Saturday and Sunday as part of a variety of celebrations, gatherings and games. By Monday, as many as 700,000 will have visited, making it the busiest holiday weekend of the year for the Atlanta Police Department.

It’s not a weekend off for any of the city’s officers, Kreher said Thursday. Both uniformed and undercover officers will be out, along with some 10,000 cameras keeping a watch over downtown as part of a video network that has been in place several years.

08/30/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Dragon con participants register for the event at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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“We’ll have all hands on deck both weekend days,” Kreher said.

So what is going on? DragonCon, Atlanta Black Pride, The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between Auburn and Washington, and LudaDay Weekend — created by rapper-turned-humanitarian Ludacris — are among the events scheduled for Labor Day weekend, plus a host of others just outside of downtown.

Saturday on the Georgia Tech campus, the Yellow Jackets will kickoff their football season vs. Alcorn State in front of an expected crowd of 30,000. More than 600 authors are expected to speak and sign their work at the annual AJC Decatur Book Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday. In Cobb County, the Atlanta Braves will host Pittsburgh for a weekend series. And, Saturday night, 70s Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform at Cellairis Ampitheatre at Lakewood.

“The diversity of our events is an important part of what makes the City of Atlanta a unique, multifaceted destination,” APD Chief Erika Shields said in an emailed statement. “We hope everyone has a great time and enjoys the best Atlanta has to offer. Our officers will be out among the crowds and stand ready to serve.”

But with the recent Jacksonville mass shooting at an “esports” gaming convention that left two dead and 11 injured, DragonCon will have additional security in place. DragonCon, which draws tens of thousands in sometimes elaborate costumes from their favorite sci-fi movies and comics, also hosts a gaming area in AmericasMart building 1. Kreher said security will be in place to make sure any weapons are part of the theatrics, rather than the real thing.

Planning for this year’s Labor Day events began as soon as they ended last year. And the plans for keeping the public safe also began months ago, Kreher said. APD considers the weekend a warm-up to even bigger events, such as the upcoming Super Bowl on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And with state and federal law enforcement also prepared to help local officers, it should be another busy, fun weekend in the city, Kreher said.

“This is not unique,” he said. “We have this every Labor Day. All of these events were here last year. We’re looking forward to another exciting weekend.”

Those planning to attend the various events should also do their part to stay safe, according to police. Parking will fill quickly, so plan to use a ride-share service or MARTA, which plans to run additional train service. If you must drive, don’t leave any valuables in your car. If you own a gun, leave it at home, Kreher said.

Lastly, event-goers are reminded to report anything suspicious to an officer in the area or by calling 911.

“We want the public to know we want to hear from them,” Kreher said.

08/30/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta Police Officer Joshua Shields (left) surveys the outside of the Atlanta Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

THE MAIN EVENTS

DragonCon: About 50,000 people are expected to attend a Saturday morning parade on Peachtree Street. Another 80,000 are expected Saturday evening at the science-fiction convention.

College football: 60,000 are expected to visit the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game Fan Zone from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia World Congress Center. At 3:30 p.m., 55,000 are expected to attend the game between Auburn and Washington. At Georgia Tech, 30,000 are expected for the Yellow Jackets’ game vs. Alcorn State.

Atlanta Black Pride: 30,000 are expected to attend an all-day event at Piedmont Park on Saturday. On Sunday, another 77,000 are expected between noon and 8 p.m. at the Pure Heat Community Festival, also at Piedmont Park.

LABOR DAY WEEKEND IN ATLANTA

Friday

• Black Pride Event: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Piedmont Park. Expected Crowd: 30,000

• DragonCon 2018: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., downtown area. Expected Crowd: 77,000

Saturday

• Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game Fan Zone: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Georgia World Congress Center. Expected Crowd: 60,000

• DragonCon 2018 Parade: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Downtown Area. Expected Crowd: 50,000

• Taste of Soul Atlanta: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., 10 Northside Drive. Expected Crowd: 10,000

• Georgia Tech v. Alcorn State: 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Georgia Tech Stadium. Expected Crowd: 30,000

• LudaFamDay: 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., 99 Northside Drive. Expected Crowd: 15,000

• Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game: 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Mercedes Benz Stadium. Expected Crowd: 50,000

• Lynyrd Skynyrd Concert: 6 p.m., Lakewood Amphitheater. Expected Crowd: 10,000

• Black Pride Event: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Piedmont Park. Expected Crowd: 30,000

• DragonCon 2018: 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Downtown Area, Expected Crowd: 80,000

Sunday

• Taste of Soul Atlanta: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.,10 Northside Drive. Expected Crowd: 10,000

• Pure Heat Community Festival: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Piedmont Park. Expected Crowd: 77,000

• DragonCon 2018: 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Downtown Area. Expected Crowd: 80,000

Monday

• DragonCon 2018: 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Downtown Area. Expected Crowd: 15,000

• Black Pride Event: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Piedmont Park. Expected Crowd: 30,000

Thousands line the sidewalks of the cosplayer filled streets as the 2017 Dragon Con parade gets underway.

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