The primary topic of public comment speakers at the Nov. 25 city council meeting was the prospect of a downtown Entertainment District. Karen Lindblad, a Spring Street bookstore owner of 44 years, encouraged council to begin with approval of a temporary entertainment district before moving to a permanent ED.
Lindblad’s concerns were the city’s lack of police enforcement to prevent visitors from drinking and driving, as well as who will be responsible for the problems that occur with intoxicated visitors.
“We know that one of the big problems in this country is alcoholism. And we don’t need people drinking on the streets. There is going to be no way to regulate them,” she said.
Restaurant and bar owners who spoke were in favor of the ED.
Mayor Butch Berry’s previous veto of the proposed ordinance was discussed, with him saying, “I’m opposed to the committee’s recommendation that the district was in operation for seven days of week for nine hours daily, while I am very much in support of establishing a permanent Entertainment District with a three-day a week, seven-hour a day, schedule.
“I believe this is a more moderate approach and finds common ground and limiting unnecessary costs to the city while maximizing the prime revenue and opportunities that a permanent entertainment district has to offer.”
He went on to say he’s opposed to the ED map that extends up to Red’s Pizza on Planer Hill, and would prefer the district begin at the Cathouse, closer to downtown. He also said he is in support of holding a public meeting to discuss this further.
Alderman Mickey Schneider said her fellow aldermen have been checking opinions with businesses in town, but she is concerned that families’ and residents’ inputs are not being heard.
“What the hell happened to our residents?” she asked. “They’re the ones that live here. They’re the ones who count just as much, if not more, than our businesses. Why are they not being talked to?”
Schneider suggested a survey be sent to all residents in regard to a permanent downtown ED. She warned council of potential litigation issues that could occur if a permanent ED is approved without canvassing the desires of the residents.
“Everyone I have talked to is against turning their town into some drunken alcoholic place just to, supposedly, bring in tourism – which is asinine,” Schneider said.
Alderman Susan Harman said there are other cities contemplating this decision, and she is in favor of the permanent ED with a sunset clause that gives the ED a maturity date.
“I really think the biggest fear out there is the fear of the unknown,” Harman said.
Alderman Terry McClung agreed with her, saying it is an unknown and it makes him nervous to establish a permanent ED. He said he believes the mayor’s reduced days and hours of the ED would be reasonable as a test case.
To safeguard the city, McClung said he would like to maintain a clause that gives council the right to immediately revoke the ordinance if it deems it appropriate saying, “And retain the caveat that if it stinks right off the bat, we pull it.”
Alderman Melissa Greene said that most of the residents she has spoken to are fine and willing to try it. “What made me for it was because I saw that the young people were the driving force behind it and they are our future and I want to give them a chance.”
Alderman Bob Thomas supported the original recommendation of the ED committee. “I’d like to thank all the Entertainment Committee members who worked for ten, twelve, hours on this for no pay,” Thomas said.
Thomas asked why Berry chose to veto the committee’s recommendation just to write a new one, instead of accepting their recommendation with these minor suggested amendments. Thomas said that what the mayor did by vetoing their proposal was like a slap in the face of the volunteers on the committee and “it’s a bad, bad precedent. It wasn’t necessary.” He affirmed that the mayor could have proposed the few recommended changes to the original proposal in diplomatic cooperation with the committee.
The permanent ED ordinance was not prepared or submitted for a vote, but it was proposed by McClung to direct City Attorney Tim Weaver to draft it with the mayor’s suggested seven-hour days for three days a week with the sunset clause of June 30, 2020. That vote was approved but opposed by Schneider and alderman Harry Meyer.
There is one more regularly scheduled meeting for the remainder of the year, Monday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium.