Foley’s proposed Entertainment District in “limbo”

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/6/18

FOLEY – During a public meeting in Jan. 2018, Foley officials spoke about a proposed entertainment district that, if approved, would enter their downtown area. Since, the city held a meeting with …

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Foley’s proposed Entertainment District in “limbo”

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FOLEY – During a public meeting in Jan. 2018, Foley officials spoke about a proposed entertainment district that, if approved, would enter their downtown area. Since, the city held a meeting with restaurant and bar owners in the area which would be affected by the district, and after that meeting, plans have been put on hold to bring an entertainment district to Foley.

“The entertainment district is currently in limbo,” said City Planner Miriam Boutwell. “We do have the ordinances drafted, we do have a boundary map, we had a public meeting on it, and then we had a meeting with all the downtown restaurant and bar owners that have ABC licenses, and they brought a lot of valid questions and concerns.”

Boutwell stated the owners were concerned about their liability insurance increasing and if an entertainment district would cost them money in the end. Concerns were also voiced about the large footprint the district would be under. To obtain an entertainment district, a minimum of four alcohol licensed businesses is required. As the city needed to meet these requirements and ABC licensed businesses are scattered throughout the downtown area, the planners created a wide-ranged area to encompass the minimum number needed.

“We’re part of Main Street Alabama now, and part of that is setting up a board and getting a Main Street Director,” Boutwell said. “So this may sit in limbo until that’s all in place, and since the Main Street group is specific to downtown, they may study it again. So I don’t know when it’s going to happen. We just felt like the owners raised some valid questions and there’s quite a distance between the different bars, it’s not like Dauphin Street or Bourbon Street where you just walk right into the bar next door, so the district is just kind of in limbo right now.”

With an entertainment district, patrons would be able to leave licensed establishments with their alcohol, which would be served in an approved entertainment district cup that would be noticeable by police officers and other bar owners. They would then be allowed to walk around the approved district area with the alcohol. The footprint in Foley includes most of the downtown area, as well as Heritage Park.

While restaurant and bar owners have concerns about liability insurance as well as the size of the district, citizens have concerns of their own. The issue has been raised that people may abuse the district by reusing their approved cup to pour their own liquor in, so the bar owners would not have any way to keep check on who was drinking too much.

“If anyone got caught doing that then they would be in violation of the entertainment district ordinance,” said councilman Charlie Ebert III. “Now hypothetically could somebody do that, yeah, and that’s where the design of the cup comes into play. It’s deliberately a very flimsy, lightweight cup that will not lend itself to multiple refills.”

Another concern from citizens is what would happen if visitors to the area saw locals drinking out of the approved cups but did not realize the area was designated an entertainment district and brought out their own alcohol to enjoy while walking through the park. This would come down to an enforcement issue, with the Foley Police Department keeping watch over the district.

While many concerns have been voiced, pros of the district have also been voiced.

“This would give those business owners the ability to sit tables out in front of their establishments where they could take an alcoholic beverage outside and serve it to customers,” said Council President Wayne Trawick.

There would also be signage placed throughout the entertainment district defining the limits and laws, letting both visitors and locals know where approved alcoholic cups would be allowed and where the perimeter ended.

With the uncertainty surrounding the district and the questions raised by both citizens and ABC license holders in the downtown area, the city feels it is not the time to push the proposal forward.

“Myself, I don’t see the advantages of having an entertainment district right now,” said Ebert. “Now could something change that would change my mind? Possibly, but I just don’t see the advantage because to establish a district our footprint had to get so large to get the minimum number of bars, and most entertainment districts are compact and consolidated. But we’ve learned a lot about it, and we have vetted the process thoroughly … Knowing what we know, all the vetting we’ve done, the feedback we’ve gotten from the public, the restaurant owners, the bar operators, the attorney, personally I don’t see anything happening with this in the near future.”

The city will instead focus on the Main Street Program and will look into plans for an entertainment district at a later date.