The possibility of getting an alcoholic beverage at a downtown establishment and walking down Broad Street with it is once again in the spotlight — only this time it comes with some unique baggage.
Rome city commissioners are scheduled to vote June 8 on an ordinance to allow the public consumption of alcohol downtown.
It was pushed forward by the Alcohol Control Commission as a way to help restaurants during the economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Factors from the details of how the ordinance was presented to its effects on Rome’s downtown area are providing plenty of bullet points for commissioners to consider before making their decision.
The ordinance is the same one recommended by the ACC and rejected by the city commission in 2017.
It would allow people of legal age to purchase alcohol from establishments in the downtown district and take it outside of those establishments within the district.
The district covers the area of Broad Street from East Sixth Avenue to East First Avenue, Bridgepoint Plaza, across the Oostanaula River to West Third Street and down to North Fifth Avenue. Other points inside the district include the Town Green, the Forum River Center, and the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge.
The ordinance includes restrictions such as having the drink in a Downtown Development Authority-approved plastic cup no bigger than 16 ounces, and ending public consumption at 11 p.m. each day.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel expressed his concern over the way the ordinance was put forward to the board this time. Neither the ACC nor the Downtown Development Authority held a meeting, either in-person or through web-based conferencing, to discuss and vote on recommending it.
ACC Chair Monica Sheppard told the city commission through Zoom on Monday her citizen board wrote their thoughts about it in emails. The majority, she said, approved sending it to the commission to try and provide economic help to the downtown restaurants as soon as possible.
“That’s not how we do business on the city commission,” McDaniel said. “We have committees. And just about every thing we vote on is brought to us out of a committee. I don’t know how each of the members of the ACC feel about it. I respect the thoughts of all of them. They are a good committee. But just to blindside the city commission and bring this back without a proper meeting is not how the city does business.”
Commissioner Wendy Davis, who chaired the ACC at the time, made a motion to adopt the ordinance at the full city commission meeting on Oct. 9, 2017. The motion died for lack of a second.
A separate motion to oppose the ordinance was made by then-commissioner Evie McNiece and seconded by McDaniel. It passed 7-1, with Davis the lone no vote.
Davis is now the commission’s appointee to the ACC as a nonvoting member. She said Thursday that the ordinance would provide flexibility for restaurants to sell alcohol to patrons while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Instead of having to stay in a tight space to wait for a table, people can buy a drink and go outside until a table is available.
“We have so many of our restaurants that have been decimated by this virus; many of them have closed completely. Some have tried to hold on to business with curbside and to-go options and continued to serve the needs of our community,” Davis said. “But one of the things that provides a lot of revenue is alcohol sales.”
McDaniel agreed that many businesses have suffered as a result of the new coronavirus and the call to avoid large public gatherings. He said he’s concerned that without a public committee meeting to begin the conversation about the ordinance, there is a lack of due diligence.
Commissioner Jamie Doss served as mayor when the ordinance was last presented to the board. He said the ACC’s approach of having the ordinance be temporary is an interesting option.
The commission will be able to either approve the ordinance with no time limit placed on it, place an expiration date on it at the time of approval, or deny it.
“The last time it came up, I was against it for few reasons. One, the police could not enforce it. And two, the perception would not be good for our downtown,” Doss said. “I am giving this latest recommendation some serious thought. I haven’t made my mind up yet.”
He said he has checked with the leaders of other cities that have similar ordinances and they have not seen a problem as a result, but there are plenty of variables.
“I know you cannot compare our city to others, but in some ways, you can,” Doss said. “We want our downtown to be for everybody.”
McDaniel said he’s also concerned that alcohol consumption in public spaces downtown could change the reputation and atmosphere of an area that has other establishments than just restaurants and bars.
“I look at Broad Street as something really special, but I don’t look at it as an entertainment district. We have many businesses there that don’t serve alcohol, and we have a number of churches, many who said they opposed (the ordinance) in 2017,” McDaniel said.
Downtown is still a family-friendly area, he added.
“To open it up where people can just walk up and down Broad Street with alcohol is a slap in the face to people who don’t drink,” he said.