A proposal to allow outdoor drinking downtown every weekend has apparently been dropped by the Duluth City Council from consideration when proposed changes to the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinance come up for a vote later this month.
During a workshop session Monday (Aug. 6), the council appeared to reach a consensus on the issue. The proposed amendments to the ordinance have been under discussion by the council for the past several months. The other changes are expected to be on the agenda for action when the council has its next regular meeting Aug. 13.
The proposed changes are the result of a comprehensive review of the ordinance by city staff. Subsequently, the city’s Alcohol Review Board forwarded the potential changes with revisions to the city council. Some of the changes would encourage development of a downtown entertainment district.
The most significant change was allowing outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages purchased from restaurants in the downtown “red zone” that would become a hospitality zone on Fridays and Saturdays. This is already allowed in the two-block red zone near the Duluth Town Green for about a dozen city-sponsored, alcohol-sanctioned events a year.
Other changes still under consideration include:
- Creating a new category of taverns that would be allowed to operate only downtown. Taverns would not be required to serve food. A 3-1 ratio of restaurants to taverns that had been suggested was changed to a 1-1 ratio. The 3-3 ratio would only have allowed one tavern to exist since there are four restaurants downtown.
- Allowing growler shops downtown to sell or give away beer samples.
- Permitting wine, beer and malt beverage tastings in grocery stores at a designated counter. Stores would be allowed to give away or sell samples.
- Allowing overflow restaurant patrons to take their cocktails, beer and wine outside in designated areas while they wait for tables. This would apply citywide.
- Eliminating the cap on package stores in the city. There are currently five package stores selling distilled spirits in the city based on population.
- Prohibiting karaoke bars in the city from having private booths and locked rooms. Karaoke and live entertainment would have to take place in open areas, a requirement that would also apply to other establishments with licenses allowing on-premises liquor consumption.
“I don’t see where having this hospitality zone helps [downtown] businesses,” said Councilman Greg Whitlock. “I like the idea of the red zone, but I think we’re asking for headaches on this [hospitality zone].”
Councilman Jim Dugan also spoke up against the idea. “I’ve been hearing a lot more negative [comments] about the hospitality zone. If we’re opening taverns, there will be more places for people to drink.” Dugan suggested that city allow drinking at more special events.
It seemed that Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg agreed. Councilwoman Marsha Bomar had recused herself from the discussion.
“It appears that it doesn’t have enough support,” said Councilman Billy Jones.
Bomar explained that although she recently sold Chocolate Perks, she still has a financial interest in the business since she had financed the sale of the café/coffee shop. Bomar had not reapplied for a beer and wine license in anticipation of the sale. New owner Keith Shewbert has indicated he plans to seek a license to sell beer and wine. He and his wife Jeanette also own 45 South in Norcross.
Jones suggested that city staff come up with a way to eliminate confusion over when alcoholic beverages are allowed to be brought into the red zone by the public for consumption during certain special events. These might be called “open cooler” events, he said. He challenged the staff to come up with a designation.
Alisa Williams, the city’s director of public information and marketing, said it could be handled by the city staff’s better educating the public.
During discussion, the council also agreed to reduce a proposed fee for caterers and vendors to apply for permits to sell beer and wine at events in the city from $25 to $15. The proposed $150 fee for restaurants to allow overflow patrons to wait for tables in designated areas outside with their alcoholic drinks was reduced to $50.