The popularity of a proposed downtown arts and entertainment district has some asking the city to consider creating a second district for its riverfront.
A plan to designate a roughly 90-acre strip along Bank Street Northeast and Second Avenue Southeast was unanimously approved by the Decatur Planning Commission on Tuesday. The measure now goes before the City Council with backing from downtown merchants, Decatur Downtown Redevelopment Authority, Chamber of Commerce and the city Planning Department.
The proposed district would allow alcohol to be served outdoors and carried in the street within its boundaries. Patrons can purchase only one alcoholic beverage at a time, but cannot take alcohol from one business to another. Drink sizes are limited to 16 ounces, and alcoholic beverages must be carried in paper or plastic containers.
Glass bottles and cans are prohibited, as is alcohol purchased outside the district and brought within its boundaries.
Dozens of residents, downtown business owners and city officials filled the council chambers to hear the commission's public hearing. Of the three who spoke, all were in favor of the district.
Susan Conner, co-owner of Riverwalk Marina, asked the city to consider adding another district that would include areas along the Tennessee River. Susan and Steve Conner's restaurant and bar The Hard Dock is on the river.
"I think it's a wonderful idea, but we feel a little jealous and left out," Susan Conner said. "The Hard Dock, Holiday Inn, the new Food Fite and Amberly Suites all have alcohol licenses which meet the requirements to have an entertainment district."
City Planner Karen Smith said state law allows cities to establish up to two districts of no more than a half-mile by a half-mile. Smith said officials want to study the potential for a second district on the riverfront.
"It's just a matter of working out the geographics and mathematics," she said.
Smith said some have proposed extending a riverfront entertainment district down to Ingalls Harbor and pavilion, which have hosted several festivals and events.
The ordinance for the proposed downtown district is modeled closely to one in Savannah, Ga., which has been successful, Smith said.
Last year, the legislature passed a law, co-sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, creating another category of alcohol licenses issued by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. It allows cities of at least 25,000 to pursue entertainment districts. To qualify, a district must have at least four businesses licensed to sell alcohol.
"Young professionals have been asking for this, and we view it as an economic developer," said Crystal Brown, the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce's vice president of business development. "We have a lot of confidence that our citizens will be responsible, and this will be an enhancement to our downtown, not an impediment."
At Tuesday's public hearing, downtown property owner Judith Tardy said she supports creating the district but has seen many downtown redevelopment initiatives come and go.
"You should consider the many owners who will be directly economically affected by your actions," Tardy told the seven-member commission prior to its vote.
In voicing her support, former councilwoman Pat Woller asked the commission to consider the next generation of potential residents and business owners.
"We must look to the future," Woller said. "It may not be mine or your preference, but it is the preference of the younger people who want more places to go."
Collins and former councilwoman Shirley Hammond, a downtown businesswoman, sent letters of support, while resident Darin Peer sent one stating the proposed district was not right for Decatur.
"This is not The French Quarter in New Orleans, not Laclede's Landing in St. Louis and not Beale Street in Memphis. ... this is Decatur," Peer wrote. "I believe a better, more responsible approach to this would afford businesses the luxury of serving and allowing alcohol to be enjoyed in and around their property by patrons, but not allowing them to purchase a drink at say, Cafe 113, then allowing them to walk all the way to Simp McGhee's. This could potentially create a trail of trash not seen downtown."
District 5 Councilman Chuck Ard, who previously said he favors an arts and entertainment district, abstained from Tuesday's vote because he will address it on the council. Council President Gary Hammon has cited concerns about its enforcement, but Decatur Police Chief Ed Taylor has been involved in its planning and said he is supportive of the district.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at 256-340-2440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Downtown arts and entertainment district
One drink on-street limit: Licensed businesses can serve only one drink at a time in a paper or plastic container to a customer.
Drinks outside businesses: Patrons can purchase a drink from a licensed business and go outside to drink it. They cannot enter another licensed business with that drink. An alcoholic beverage acquired elsewhere cannot be brought into the district.
16-ounce limit on alcoholic beverages.
Cans, glass and bottles prohibited.
Open container law still enforced where applicable.
Hours: No alcohol allowed earlier than 6 a.m. or later than 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 a.m. to noon Sunday.
City of Decatur
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