“We have had some discussions with the Downtown Development Authority and there has been some interest shown around council,” Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell said, “about several things related to alcohol revenues. They basically fall into two categories — to do away with the food sales percentages, which requires restaurants to have X amount percent of food sales and the festival ordinance, especially where you want to allow festivals and what type of limitations do you want to put on the festivals?”
Lovell explained that some limitations might be a controlled zone that limits the type of alcohol served while another might allow alcohol to be carried from store to store.
“Another issue to be considered involves a wine tasting ordinance that would allow shops to hold wine tastings,” he said. “So we’re talking about three categories — percentage sales, festivals which encompasses walking around with alcohol outside a business and the liabilities involved in cases of violation.”
“I don’t think this is broke so don’t fix it, that’s my opinion,” Ward 2 councilperson Jayce Stepp said. “I don’t have any desire to see people walking downtown drinking, but my argument as far as the percentages go, we know some businesses have no problem with it, but we know we have ‘bars’ downtown even though they serve food, they are bars. If you are going to drop the percentage from 45 or 50 percent to 30 or 25 percent, I would rather see no percentage. If people want to come in and prefer to have a beer instead of a sandwich, then they should be able to.”
Mayor Matt Santini countered that there is a law on the books and if those laws are enforced, the city should be prepared to force some establishments out of business.
“If you aren’t in favor of losing businesses,” he said, “let’s find a percentage that meets a minimum standard that doesn’t run people out of business but still maintains that requirement that you must be some kind of food serving establishment.”
Ward 1 councilperson Kari Hodge asked if the percentage was eliminated or lowered to perhaps, 10 percent, what would the economic impact be.
“Would we then have 12 alcohol serving establishments in downtown no longer serving food because it no longer makes sense to be a restaurant owner and is that what we want to see happen?” she asked.
Santini concurred, asking if council was doing its job in protecting the quality of life in the community by allowing 12 “watering holes” in the city.
“I understand the argument from both sides,” he said, “but I also think that if you have food places that serve alcohol, that is much better than having places that just serve alcohol.”
Stepp said he didn’t like the idea of playing Big Brother for the community.
“I understand that we wouldn’t like to have seven or eight bars down the road, but I think lowering the percentage is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Santini wondered if the current percentages hindered a person from being in business or hampered downtown growth or stopped a person from relocating a business due to these regulations.
Both Stepp and Hodge said they had multiple conversations with people that said they would be willing to open a nice establishment if they didn’t have to provide a full kitchen.
“We are really looking at small businesses that aren’t used to seeing a lot of regulations and we need to figure out a way to make us small business friendly that encourages an entrepreneurial spirit,” Hodge said.
The second issue involved street festivals similar to the recent bluegrass festival held in Friendship Plaza.
“There are certain areas downtown that may be more conducive to festivals than others in respect to alcohol sales,” Santini said. “If you are a restaurant owner that has an alcohol license, how is this going to set with you if there is a festival across the street that is serving alcohol but hasn’t paid nearly the fees or gone through the scrutiny you went through in order to sell?”
Lovell said unlike other communities, Cartersville has logistical issues such as a railroad track running through the center of town and state highways crossing the area that cause security and enforcement problems that require selective placement of alcohol sales zones.
“That brings to question, what does the presence of alcohol allow us to have at, say, a bluegrass festival?” Santini asked. “Would the presence of alcohol bring more people to the festival?”
Several voices replied, “yes” in unison.
By law, government work sessions cannot result in any sort of actions, so the discussion will be continued at the next regular council meeting.