El Dorado is the second city in Arkansas to approve a designated area for the public consumption of and open carrying of alcoholic beverages.
The El Dorado City Council adopted June 18 an ordinance to create an entertainment district, which would, in part, permit the outside consumption and open carrying of alcohol — including mixed drinks, beer and wine — within the boundaries of the district.
The district encompasses a nine-block area that is roughly bordered by Oak, Hill, Pony and Cleveland streets in downtown El Dorado.
Main Street El Dorado and the Murphy Arts District presented the ordinance for consideration, in accordance with Act 812 of 2019, a state law that was passed in April.
The law was based on a bill that was introduced by state Sen. Trent Gardner (R-El Dorado) and state Rep. Sonia Barker (R-Smackover).
The state law and city ordinance go into effect July 24.
Council members suspended the rules and read the ordinance three times, passing it after the third reading and enacting an emergency clause.
The emergency clause allows the enactment of the ordinance to coincide with the effective date set by the state.
City ordinances typically go into effect 90 days after passage, as is the process with state legislation.
Six council members voted in favor of the ordinance. Council Member Vance Williamson was unable to attend the meeting and Council Member Michael Rice, the owner of a downtown restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages, abstained.
Purpose and conditions
Mountain Home was the first Arkansas city to establish an entertainment district to allow the public consumption of alcohol.
City officials there voted in June to create the district, which covers much of Mountain Home’s downtown, and open it July 24.
El Dorado followed suit and several other cities around the state are considering similar ordinances.
The purpose of Act 812 is to:
• Promote hospitality and tourism.
• Establish areas of a city or town that highlight restaurant, entertainment and hospitality options.
• To establish temporary or permanent, designated entertainment districts.
The outside consumption of alcohol is a privilege that is granted by the ordinance, which is in the same vein as open-container zones in other cities around the nation, including Memphis and New Orleans.
Pam Griffin and Beth Brumley — president and chief operating officer of MAD and executive director of Main Street El Dorado, respectively — presented the ordinance to the city council.
The El Dorado ordinance permits open-container carry from noon until 2 a.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and on holidays.
Groups who plan special events outside those designated times may apply for a permit from the mayor’s office to establish a temporary entertainment district.
Alcoholic beverages must be purchased from businesses within the district that are licensed to sell alcohol. Alcohol purchased outside the district is prohibited.
Some downtown businesses that sell alcohol are Fayrays, Marilyn’s on the Square, Laredo Grill, Black Cat Café and Downstairs Pub, and The Griffin Restaurant.
Alcoholic beverages may be carried from a business in a paper cup, no larger than 16 fluid ounces, and a person is not allowed to carry more than one open container.
A can is permitted if sold by an organization during a special event under a temporary permit.
If a premise within the district allows, a person may enter while carrying an open or closed container of alcohol that was acquired elsewhere within the district.
It is unlawful for anyone to consume alcohol or possess an open container inside a vehicle within the confines of or outside the district.
• Discussion: Griffin told council members that other Arkansas cities — including Fayetteville, Pine Bluff and Texarkana — who are considering forming entertainment districts were keeping a watchful eye on the decision in El Dorado.
Council Member Dianne Hammond asked if any downtown businesses within the boundaries of the district were opposed to the measure.
“Not that we’re aware of. I spoke with several of the restaurants, retails — we have a member of the (Downtown Business Association) here —, the churches, the (El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce), (Union County Judge Mike Loftin), so everyone is aware,” Brumley said.
Council Member Willie McGhee inquired about the entity that would be responsible for enforcement and Rice said regulations fall under the auspices of Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“They do monitoring and spot checks on a routine basis,” said Rice, a former law enforcement officer and owner of Fayrays.
“If we get a complaint, what do we do?” asked McGhee.
Rice said the AABC would be notified of any complaints, violations or other issues with issues, adding that businesses that commit any violations could face stiff fines.
Griffin noted that the AABC reviewed a draft of the ordinance.
Rucks asked Griffin and Brumley to elaborate on the designated hours for the entertainment district and the provisions for a special permit.
Brumley said the groups settled on the limited hours to see how the district would work out and because downtown festivals and events mostly take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday and generate a lot of foot traffic.
She said the groups discussed the matter with Police Chief Kenny Hickman.
Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer called on Capt. Jason Dumas, of the El Dorado Police Department, who attended the council meeting in Hickman’s stead.
“My understanding is that the chief is OK with it, if it’s a big event. He just doesn’t want it all the time,” Dumas said.
Council Member Judy Ward noted that the ordinance does not stipulate special events.
“I thought this was going to be when you had MusicFest and special events. That’s not the case?” Ward asked.
“That’s not how we have it written at this time,” Brumley said. “We did sit down and look at individual events in between the time that this would go into effect and just the end of the year and there were 35 events between Main Street and MAD that we would have to come back for each week and say, ‘Can we have the district for this time? Can we have the district for this time?”
City Attorney Henry Kinslow explained that the goal of MAD, in particular, and the entertainment district is “to do something all the time.”
Council Member Paul Choate, who previously served on the Main Street board of directors, addressed Rice, saying, “You’re our resident restauranteur and bar owner. Tell me how you feel about this?”
“In theory, it makes sense from an economic standpoint for my business,” Rice said.
If a patron does not want to sit in the restaurant to finish a beer, the patron can take a “to-go cup,” Rice said.
He also contended that the ordinance helps to prevent over-indulgence, saying, “For example, I’m on a budget. I buy a beer and my buddies had some other friends to show up down the way, so I’m going to kill that beer, where if I could pour it in a cup, I could enjoy it responsibly.”
Rice also said the measure could potentially generate more revenue for downtown restaurants and bars, particularly during special events.
“It would also take a load off beer tents and things like that during festivals. I can see where it can be financially beneficial and I also see where it can also help it be more responsible,” he said.
“If people are going to have fun, they’re going to have fun and if they know they can get a drink in 10 or 15 places, rather than spend two hours, or whatever they say, in line at a beer tent, they’re probably not going to stick a bottle of whiskey, or be as tempted to stick a bottle of whiskey, down their boot, so they don’t have to sit there and wait in line, if that makes sense,” Rice continued.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.