A discussion on a possible downtown entertainment district drew a large crowd to Thursday evening’s Cartersville City Council meeting — with the majority of speakers adamantly opposed to the idea.
Similar to areas in Acworth, Kennesaw and Woodstock, the proposed district would allow individuals to carry and consume alcoholic beverages within a specified boundary.
“Council had entertained this ordinance in the past, but it never got any traction,” said Cartersville City Councilman Jayce Stepp. “Obviously, we have festival zones that I think have gone pretty well … that’s basically a mapped out area that allows open container inside that area.”
At this point, however, he noted there is no defined or agreed-upon map for what the zone would consist of — nor a consensus on what days of the week such a district would be activated.
“Not only would we restrict where it can be, not just make it the entire downtown, but maybe certain times,” Stepp said. “So that can be open to discussion.”
Cartersville Assistant City Attorney Keith Lovell discussed the possible ramifications of an entertainment district being approved by the council.
“If the map ya’ll ultimately decided on included all the area that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has allowed to have a festival in, then yes, it would eliminate the festival zone as something to have,” he said. “It’ll depend on what ya’ll ultimately decide in respect to the boundaries and time limits, whether the DDA would feel after that they would still want to have festivals outside that area and outside that time.”
Councilman Cary Roth said that he had concerns about how well the boundaries have been enforced at previous downtown festivals allowing open containers.
“This is probably not the direction I would see our City going,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with the activity of downtown, that it changes the character of our downtown if we went this direction.”
Roughly a dozen people took to the podium to voice their thoughts on the proposal.
“People are going to be carrying alcohol from place to place to place throughout the map,” said Grady Clark, pastor of Calvary Chapel River Oaks off Nelson Street. “But they’re not going to stay within that map when they finish that last drink, they’re going to wherever their cars are parked.”
Furthermore, he said he had concerns about who the proposal may draw to the downtown area.
“If it’s called an entertainment zone, it should literally be called an adult beverage zone,” he said. “That’s really the change that you’re making, it has nothing to do with entertainment.”
Bobby Lawrence, of Cartersville’s Anchor Ministries, said he was opposed to “every inch” of the proposal. He said he already sees public drunkenness “seven days a week, 24 hours” along the downtown corridor.
“You’ve got somebody living right there at the depot on the concrete there, I see alcoholics all over,” he told the council. “You sell alcohol, you reap drunks.”
Taylorsville resident Kenneth Dowdy said he had two daughters who worked at restaurants near Main Street. He told council members he had concerns about intoxicated pedestrian and drivers.
“It’s not if it happens, it’s when it happens,” he said. “Everyone of us is looking at this from an economic standpoint, but man, what does your heart say? What if it was your wife, what if it was your husband who hit somebody that stepped out in front of them?”
Several downtown business owners also voiced opposition to the entertainment district proposal.
“Public drunkenness is something that we often deal with,” said Coconuts co-owner Jennifer Capes. “Monday, we had an inebriated gentlemen … he was weaving in and out of cars in our drive-thru.”
She told council members she was concerned about large — and potentially rowdy — groups of revelers detracting from her business’ family-friendly atmosphere.
“Are we going to have people late at night who are stumbling about our parking lots, are we going to have people who are sitting down at our tables and the next morning I’m going to have to clean up broken beer bottles, trash that’s laid out everywhere?” she said.
Another downtown business owner, Sam Franklin, similarly said he was worried about the entertainment district’s ramifications.
“There’s a lot of good intentions, there’s a lot of responsible people, but I feel like these kinds of things encourage people to come who don’t care about Cartersville,” he said. “As a business that falls into an entertainment zone that I did not ask to be a part of, it concerns me with what I may have to deal with as a downtown business, and behavior that’s associated with alcohol.”
Nor were some downtown residents pleased by the proposal.
Janet Thornbrough told council members that two years ago, lights outside her residence were damaged by two pub crawl participants.
“That parking lot back there, behind all those restaurants on Main Street at the back of our building, it’s a wreck,” she said. “You can just look out the window and there’s people urinating in the parking lot, there’s all sorts of things I won’t go into that go on back there in that parking lot that you can see at any given time.”
Local developer Ron Goss also said he had apprehensions about bringing an entertainment district to the downtown area.
“If you have a business now that serves an alcoholic beverage, you have sort of a point of origin — if they continue to pour and they let somebody walk out that door, they know they’re drunk, they did not take responsibility to call a cab or call 911 and they go out there and kill your wife, you want answers,” he said. “If you have this unlimited, there’s no way to track loose alcohol like this ordinance is talking about.”
Additionally, he said he’s spoken with several downtown businesses that have deep concerns about littering.
“We are burdening public works to a certain degree, and probably the police, because of our success,” he said. “I don’t think we need to add this to that.”
Unlike other cities, Goss said he believes Cartersville already has an authentic, organic downtown area.
“Why would we jeopardize the quality, the bar that we’ve raised?” he said. “Let’s take the downtown economic development approach to figure out how to do the right things for downtown, not what we’re proposing here.”
A few attendees at Thursday evening’s public meeting, however, did lend their support to the creation of a downtown entertainment zone.
“I felt like I was hearing the preamble to a ‘Mad Max’ post-apocalyptic world — broken glass everywhere, trash everywhere, people vomiting and peeing and doing all this horrible stuff here,” said Alan Sanders, a member of Cartersville’s Downtown Development Authority. “We have our restaurants now, we have our establishments now — people can get one, two, 10 drinks inside now.”
He said he believes such an ordinance could provide a financial boon to downtown businesses.
“We are very, very focused on making sure that we’re doing things to drive both economic development activity and bring people downtown,” he said, “because the more people that come down, they’re seeing those shops, maybe, for the first time and they’re trying that restaurant for the first time.”
Southern Muggs and Hippie Donuts owner Jennifer Smith also supported the proposal.
“Alcohol, in and of itself, is not evil — Jesus served wine, he turned water into wine,” she told the council. “We have an opportunity to be responsible adults … there’s no reason to turn to the absolutes on either side.”
Smith, also a member of the Cartersville Alcohol Control Board, said those who “overindulge” are going to do so regardless of the City’s ordinances.
“They’re going to go to a package store and drink before they go downtown,” she said. “They’re not going to go into a business and overindulge and then go to another business and overindulge.”
The entertainment district proposal, she said, does not represent an “invitation” for people to get intoxicated downtown. Just because the proposal would allow individuals to consume alcohol outdoors, she said, does not mean that those individuals will consume more alcohol overall.
“It’s an invitation for people to come into our downtown area and have an enjoyable experience,” she said. “It would be nice to have a walk outside, with a drink that you picked up in a local restaurant, have a seat in the park and finish your drink.”
No official actions were taken on the proposal at Thursday’s meeting. The Cartersville City Council will resume entertainment district discussions at a public meeting scheduled for Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at 10 North Public Square.