The raised hands had it.
The raised hands had it.
A workshop of the Port St. Joe Commission to discuss the concept of “open container” or “entertainment” zones within the downtown area turned in to less a debate than a rally in opposition.
Residents packed the Garrison Ave., commission meeting room, lined up along side walls, extra chairs in aisles and those standing spilled into the lobby of the building.
And with the exception of about five people sitting together on one side of the main seating area, all raised their hands when asked by Commissioner David Ashbrook who opposed the concept.
“The people have spoken,” Ashbrook said. “I don’t think any more needs to be said.”
His fellow commissioners had already declared a post mortem, with Mayor Bo Patterson and Commissioner William Thursbay expressing opposition after remarks from Pastor James Wiley,
Wiley, speaking for the Port St. Joe Ministerial Alliance’s unanimous opposition to the creation of any “open container” area, said he and the Alliance could not fathom the benefit.
Initially offered as something needed on nights restaurants experience long lines, as Patterson said, Wiley said that seemed scant justification for impacting the city’s reputation for a “family-friendly atmosphere.”
If folks can’t wait the 15 or 20 minutes to get a table in order to have a drink, maybe “counseling” rather than a meal was in order.
“Who really wants this?” Wiley asked. “Who is it going to benefit? … Who are we trying to attract? Do we want to attract them?”
He added that once folks are outside an establishment with their drinks, control will become an issue and said other places that have established such zones, as in Beale Street in Memphis, have seen an increase in public drunkenness and fighting.
“I am hard-pressed to understand” the benefit to the community, Wiley said. “It is going to create more of a problem than it will solve.”
Patterson responded that in his view it was a “dead issue.”
Thursbay, noting the size of a crowd clearly in opposition, said the workshop accomplished what was aimed.
“To me, this is what it is all about,” Thursbay said. “I don’t have all the answers. These are the people I want to hear from.”
No one spoke in favor of the concept, which was brought into focus in an e-Blast from the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce urging attendance at the workshop to determine if it “was the right fit for Port St. Joe.”
The Chamber, Steve Burke detailed, had been working with several merchants along Reid Ave. to consider the creation of a “Specialty Center” in Port St. Joe.
As defined in Florida statutes, a specialty center can be “any development having at least 50,000 square feet of leasable area containing restaurants, entertainment facilities and specialty shops and located adjacent to a navigable body of water.”
That body of water passage, Commissioner Brett Lowry said, pretty much ruled out a zone strictly down Reid Ave.
“From the get-go I wasn’t for it,” Lowry said.
Within that area, “alcoholic beverages sold for consumption on the premises by a vendor in a specialty center may be consumed only in areas designated” and may not be removed from the designated area.
“What this means is if a patron purchases a drink in a bar or restaurant they may leave the establishment with the drink as long as they stay inside the specialty center,” Burke wrote.
Alcohol sales would be still be allowed by only those licensed and no one could bring their own alcohol into the center area, Burke wrote.
And it is entirely up to individual businesses whether they would participate and whether alcohol would be allowed in their businesses.
The area under consideration has been the subject of much discussion inside and outside the meeting room.
As Patterson explained it during a regular meeting two weeks ago, the area under consideration spanned from the Marina to Reid Ave.
In his e-Blast, Burke said the “general” area under consideration was Reid Ave., part of Williams, First Street/Marina Drive from Williams to the Marina and businesses between Harbor Drive and Marina Drive.
Business owners funded a consultant to navigate the legalities.
“This has the potential to be very positive for businesses in the specialty center especially during the peak summer months where two-hour waits at restaurants are not unusual,” Burke wrote.
Ashbrook summarized the room last Thursday.
“This is only the second time, maybe the first, that we’ve had such a turnout,” Ashbrook said. “It’s exciting to me to have such participation.”