Frankfort city commissioners heard an outpouring of support Monday night for plans to allow open alcohol containers during events in areas of downtown as part of an “entertainment district.”
The topic was part of the commission’s monthly work session at City Hall. Several business proprietors, advocates and property owners spoke in favor of the commission's applying to Kentucky Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) in order to gain the Entertainment Destination Center (EDC) license for a large swath of the downtown historic district, giving the city the ability to allow open alcohol containers in certain areas at certain times. Commissioners did not take a vote on the matter but moved it forward as part of a formal process to collect public comment before deciding whether to submit an application and then craft language for an ordinance setting parameters for the district.
Citizens will now have 30 days to comment in writing to City Hall about what they would like to see the in the district.
Mayor Bill May and every commissioner expressed support for the plan, but they emphasized the importance of public comment in the 30-day window to get a full picture of the community's sentiment on the subject. And they received a resounding show of support Monday night.
Kelly Everman, director of Downtown Frankfort Inc., said the designation would bring the city into compliance with ABC in order to continue offering community events like the Downtown Summer Concert Series. She said it also would promote a progressive business environment to attract people to the city.
“New opportunities to expand services for small businesses and retail shops are good,” Everman said. “It’s good for the business, it’s good for the customer and it’s good for our community.”
Tim Luscher, co-owner of Sig Luscher Brewery, said he reopened a business that lay dormant for about 120 years in the last six months because he saw promise in Frankfort.
“A lot of progressive individuals and businesses are trying to do something that Frankfort kind of lost over the years,” Luscher said. “A key to a successful community is making it livable. And this entertainment district is one step in that direction.”
Guidelines for the entertainment district will come out of the public comment period. Some Kentucky cities — such as Maysville, Covington and Newport — have adopted similar measures during events. Commissioners said that Maysville has personalized cups that are easily identifiable for law enforcement.
Rachael Peake, owner of Capital Cellars, said the measure would promote business not just for bars but also for retail because people would be allowed flexibility to meander and window shop.
“It would allow people to freely move around downtown,” Peake said. “People want to move around and shop. And as much as I love my business, people are constantly asking me if they have to stay on our sidewalk. We have to say yes.”
The issue of the entertainment district came to light after the city learned it had been receiving the benefits of the designation without actually having the license. Some in the community have expressed disapproval of the measure, but each commissioner expressed varying degrees of support.
May said it was part of his campaign platform to promote downtown as an arts and entertainment district.
“I’m all for it,” he said. "Anything that will make Frankfort a destination and encourage tourism, I'm all for."
Commissioner Scott Tippett was the lone board member to express apprehension about the measure, but he said he was inclined to agree with the designation.
“I’m leaning for it,” Tippett said. “We just need more information. We need to hear the public’s comment.”
Commissioner John Sower said he was in favor of the measure but expressed public safety concerns and asked the business owners present to articulate the liability that they face if they allow the alcohol consumption to get out of hand.
“My point is that as a former business person … the legal obligations can be severe if safety is not practiced,” Sower said. “And that is what I wanted to clarify is the owner of an establishment is going to be hit hard, and he is therefore motivated to make sure everything is clear.”
Commissioner Eric Whisman said that outside of allowing open alcohol containers any aspect of the ordinance being crafted by the city could be determined by the public comment period. He said it is important in determining its boundaries.
“We need to be able to offer the amenities people expect going to a destination city,” Whisman said. “And this is one more tool in doing that.”
Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge agreed that a full public comment period is needed in order to have everyone considered in the decision.
“I’m in full support of it,” she said. “However, I want to hear the comments… I think it’ll be a positive step for our community.”