FAYETTEVILLE -- City leaders say that when it comes to allowing people to walk around a designated area carrying open containers of alcohol, they are inclined to start small.
On Tuesday, the Fayetteville City Council is to consider a proposed ordinance under a new state law that governs entertainment districts.
What: Fayetteville City Council, discussing a proposal to create an entertainment district downtown.
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Room 219, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.
The law, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, allows cities to set their own standards for public consumption of alcohol within an entertainment district's boundary. The law is written broadly, which allows cities to come up with what best suits them.
Mountain Home became the first city in the state to adopt such a district, followed by El Dorado and, as of Friday, Little Rock.
Rather than set certain hours for certain blocks where outdoor alcohol consumption would be allowed, Fayetteville administrators decided to designate most of the city's downtown as an entertainment district subject to strict regulation, said Blake Pennington, assistant city attorney.
"We want to promote festivals and events in the downtown area," he said. "We want to kind of slow-roll this implementation and make sure everybody around here is educated, and they know what the rules are with regard to these entertainment districts."
Under the proposed ordinance, event organizers would seek city approval to allow patrons to walk around with alcoholic drinks. The street on which such events are held would be closed to traffic. The mayor would review all permits.
Cups would have to be reusable or compostable and no more than 16 ounces, according to a draft of the ordinance. The idea would be to keep people from walking around with glass containers that could shatter, Pennington said.
Drinkers could carry only one cup at a time, and the drinks would have to be bought within the district. Drinks could not be taken from one bar or restaurant to another, and patrons would not be allowed to carry cups of alcohol outside the district. Signs would mark the areas where drinks could be carried.
Police Chief Greg Tabor said the Police Department would have input on the approval and conditions for events. Officers would enforce the ordinance and crowd size would determine the number of officers present, he said.
"I would be much more concerned about it if it was a blanket 24/7, 365 thing for that whole area," Tabor said.
Molly Rawn, executive director of the city's tourism bureau Experience Fayetteville, said letting people walk around with containers of alcohol could be appropriate at some events but not at others. The city's proposal allows organizers to decide that, she said.
From a tourism standpoint, she said, an entertainment district "in and of itself may not be what draws someone here, but it adds to the mix of what's happening while they're here. It makes their experience more enjoyable, we hope, and perhaps encourages them to come back."
Next month the city is hosting Bikes, Blues & BBQ -- billed as the world's largest charity motorcycle rally, drawing hordes of people. Some of the rally activities are scheduled to be on Dickson Street, a main downtown roadway that's lined with businesses and extends partly to the University of Arkansas campus.
Open containers won't be an issue at this year's festival, which starts Sept. 25, said Tommy Sisemore, executive director. There won't be time to apply for and implement carryout alcohol, he said, adding that his group will consider the matter in the future if the city ordinance passes.
Sisemore said he appreciates the city being conservative with the rollout of the entertainment district.
"I think they're taking a very thoughtful approach, and not just saying, 'Hey, it's New Orleans, get what you want and walk down the street and drink it,'" he said.
The Dickson Street Merchants Association, a collection of business owners on or near the main drag of downtown, hasn't taken a position on the proposal yet, said president Joe Fennel.
Representatives of other Northwest Arkansas cities Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville said their cities don't have any entertainment-district proposals on the table but may consider them at some point.
Mark Hayes, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, said the league supported the new state law when it was winding through the Legislature. The league has prepared a draft of a sample ordinance for cities to use if they so choose.
"From my perspective, it's a matter of local control," he said. "From an economic standpoint, it seems to be helpful in places."
Mountain Home Mayor Hillrey Adams said the entertainment district is working well in his city, so far. The district opened July 24 and comprises about eight blocks downtown. Patrons can move around within the district with an approved container from 4:30 p.m. to midnight every day of the week.
Mountain Home has two places -- a restaurant and a wine bar -- participating in the alcohol program so far, so there hasn't been a flurry of activity since setting up the district, Adams said. However, the city plans to host a festival in October, and a brewery plans to set up in a corner location, he said.
The city has a committee to work on signs, lighting and whatever else the district needs, Adams said. Officials want to get it right and serve as an example to other towns, he said.
"This is about more than a 16-ounce cup and what that cup has," Adams said. "This is about redeveloping downtown and creating a tourism and hospitality area."
Motorists pass Thursday as a small crowd of people gathers in bars on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The City Council will take up a measure Tuesday to define the boundary and rules for its entertainment district, a new designation created under state law.
SundayMonday on 08/18/2019
Print Headline: City sets modest steps on district