entertainment district

FAYETTEVILLE — City leaders say they want to start small by letting people walk around with containers of alcohol at events, then see if outdoor drinking downtown could be allowed during certain hours.

The council on Tuesday will consider a measure for the regulation of an entertainment district, as defined under the terms of new state law. The law, sponsored by state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, allows cities to set their own standards for public consumption of alcohol within the set boundary of a district. The law is written broadly, which allows cities of varying sizes to come up with what best suits them.

 

The Meeting

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.

 

Mountain Home became the first city to adopt such a district, followed by El Dorado and, on Friday, Little Rock. Rather than set certain hours for certain blocks where outdoor alcohol consumption is allowed, Fayetteville administrators decided it best to designate the majority of downtown as an entertainment district, but with strict regulations, said Blake Pennington, assistant city attorney.

“We want to promote festivals and events in the downtown area,” he said. “The other reason is 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.”

What It Is

The proposed measure allows events already with city approval to apply to have attendees walk around with alcoholic drinks. New events also would have to get approval. The street on which the event takes place would have to be closed. For instance, during the Pride parade, people could be allowed to grab drinks from businesses along Dickson Street and go outside with them while the street is closed. The mayor will review all permits.

Cups have to be reusable or compostable and no more than 16 ounces, according to a draft of the proposal. Drinkers can only have one cup at a time. Drinks have to come from within the district, so it’s not BYOB. Drinks can’t be taken from one bar or restaurant to another, although empty cups can. People also can’t take full cups with them outside the district. Signs will mark the areas where drinks can be taken.

Police Chief Greg Tabor said the department will have input on the approval and conditions for events. Officers will enforce the ordinance during the events, and crowd size will 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 that’s outlined,” Tabor said.

Pennington said businesses may furnish their own cups, or the city might provide cups for free or at a discount. The idea is to keep people from walking around with glass containers that could shatter or the beverage’s original can or bottle, he said.

Passage will not automatically allow open containers at events. Organizers of each event will have to apply and get businesses who want to participate on board, Pennington said.

Another aspect makes it easier for businesses to have sidewalk cafes. The city has a permitting process for sidewalk cafes, but a different state law requires them to have a fence around them, said Garner Stoll, development services director. The requirement is waived under the new state law if the sidewalk cafe is within an entertainment district, he said.

Drinks have to stay within the area of the sidewalk cafe unless the drinks are in one of the approved containers on a closed street associated with an event, Stoll said. The city hadn’t received any applications for sidewalk cafes, likely because of the fence restriction, he said.

Two restaurants have expressed interest in having sidewalk cafes if the entertainment district proposal passes, Stoll said.

What Organizers Think

Molly Rawn, executive director of the city’s tourism bureau Experience Fayetteville, said letting people walk around with containers of alcohol could be appropriate for some events, but not for others. The city’s proposal allows organizers to decide, she said.

For instance, Experience Fayetteville is considering applying for First Thursday, but not Lights of the Ozarks, Rawn said.

Tourism can mean bringing in people from out of town for a specific event. It also means enhancing people’s experiences and broadening amenities for when they’re already in the city, she said.

“This 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,” Rawn said. “It makes their experience more enjoyable, we hope, and perhaps encourages them to come back.”

The Bikes, Blues & BBQ board will discuss the entertainment district ordinance after one passes, said Tommy Sisemore, executive director. The festival wouldn’t have time to apply for and implement carry-out alcohol for this year’s festival anyway, which starts Sept. 25, he said.

Right now, festival-goers are allowed to buy and drink beer outdoors only within the confines of the beer garden. Sisemore said he appreciated the city being conservative with the rollout of the 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 Joe Fennel, president.

“I think I’ll just let them decide what they’re going to do,” he said. “It’ll give us something to chat about and then we’ll go from there.”

Outside perspective

Representatives of Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville said their cities don’t have any entertainment district proposals on the table but may consider them.

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 sample ordinance for cities to use if they want.

“From my perspective, it’s a matter of local control,” he said. “From an economic standpoint, it seems to be helpful in places.”

The move seems to be good for Mountain Home, Mayor Hillrey Adams said. The city’s district opened July 24 and includes about eight blocks downtown. People can leave an establishment with an approved container within the district from 4:30 p.m. to midnight every day of the week.

Mountain Home has two places taking part — a restaurant and a wine bar — so there hasn’t been a flurry of activity since enacting the district, Adams said. However, the city plans to host a festival in October, and a brewery plans to set up shop at a corner location, he said.

The city has a committee to work on signs and lighting and whatever else the district needs to be a success, 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.”