Commission moves to reinstate open-container restrictions
Published on September 14, 2023
The Gainesville City Commission is one step closer to bringing back the open-container ban that existed citywide before the fall of 2020. At today’s special meeting, commissioners approved on first vote a motion to end the pandemic-era changes that have allowed neighbors to possess and consume alcohol in public spaces between the hours of 7 a.m. and 2:30 a.m.
This comes after months of conversation between the commission, law enforcement, and downtown business owners about the most effective way to improve public safety while continuing to support existing establishments. Many bar and restaurant owners, who initially welcomed the more relaxed open container rules to stay afloat during the pandemic, have come to rely on them as a method of attracting patrons and boosting sales.
For that reason, the city commission today also approved on first vote a related ordinance that would create an Arts, Culture and Entertainment District to establish specifically delineated areas downtown, and within the commercial area of Grove Street, where customers could consume alcohol in public spaces inside district borders.
Mayor Harvey Ward, who requested research on the district from staff, recently met with downtown business owners to discuss this as a possible solution. “The goal is to achieve a compromise that honors both the concerns and hopes of most interested neighbors,” said Mayor Ward. “We’ve given our public safety professionals a tool to work with, and kept a part of our city available for a variety of entertainment and cultural options.”
The commission motion would allow open containers in the district from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. Although the plan from staff had originally set borders from Northeast Sixth Avenue to Depot Park (north to south), and from the Power District and Southeast Seventh Street to Southwest Sixth Street (east to west), commissioners have directed the map be simplified and that the selected areas include the commercial portion of Grove Street, which is home to many restaurants, retail spaces, and the Grove Street Farmers Market.
If any version of the district is established, the city would install signage at its outer boundaries, and licensed establishments would be required to post maps to keep patrons informed.
Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott believes this would help the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) assign necessary resources downtown while increasing open container enforcement around the neighborhoods, parks, parking lots and other areas around the city where residents have asked for help.
“It’s really in the spirit of compromise,” said Chief Scott. “We looked at it and thought we can make that work. The businesses have an economic concern. We’re thinking about public safety across the community. We can meet in the middle and support the idea of a district.”
Neither the reinstated open container ban nor the proposed Arts, Culture and Entertainment District are official yet. Both require one more city commission vote, which is set for Oc. 26, 2023. If approved at second reading, they are expected to become effective on Jan. 1, 2024.