As downtown restaurateurs are one step closer to being able to serve alcohol outdoors, many business owners and residents are looking forward to the possibility.
Some are not.
Last week, the Newnan City Council agreed to consider amending the city’s alcohol ordinance and voted to place the amendment on its March 28 agenda for a second reading.
The recommendation would allow alcohol sales and consumption in cafe seating areas, as well as on city streets and sidewalks during certain city-sanctioned events.
During discussion, council members expressed some concern over compliance with safety and federal disability regulations specific to outdoor areas where alcohol would be served.
Newnan Councilman George Alexander was the holdout vote last Tuesday, and said his decision was based on keeping the downtown area a family friendly atmosphere.
“It’s not family-oriented to walk around with an open container on the sidewalk and street,” Alexander said.
Since moving to Coweta County in 1986, Alexander said the area has come “full circle” since the days where alcohol sales of any kind were prohibited.
As restrictions loosened over the years, Alexander said he’s never had an issue with alcohol sales on Sunday or liquor by the drink in restaurants. But the argument of keeping Newnan modern and competitive through allowing an open container policy doesn’t hold water for him.
“Look at our downtown at almost any time of the day or night, and you’ll see that we’re extremely competitive,” he said. “There’s hardly a single unoccupied building – we’re thriving.”
Regardless of the final decision regarding open containers downtown, Alexander said he’ll respect the outcome and continue working to pursue the best interests of the city.
“I love this town, our downtown neighborhoods, and the council members I work with,” he said. “We can agree to disagree, but we always move forward no matter what, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Exploring the idea of using city sidewalks for cafe seating and special event alcohol service was first mentioned in the Downtown Development Authority’s 2012 Strategic Plan. Ten of the 17 downtown restaurants currently hold an alcohol pouring license.
For restaurant owners like Casey Smith, the possibility of alcohol outdoors at special events doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll see a spike in alcohol sales. He estimates alcohol sales make up less than one percent of his revenue at the Redneck Gourmet.
But the possibility of open container symbolizes a little more freedom for those visiting downtown for shopping, eating and other attractions like a concert in the park.
“I think some people may have the fear that it would turn into a Lakewood Amphitheatre environment,” Smith said. “But the city, police and the restaurants would never allow that to happen.
“I think it’s just another way of making the city attractive to those who want to spend time here.”
Smith sees the open container experiment as a way keep a healthy downtown even more vibrant. With the success of other towns the size of Newnan, like Carrollton, he thinks it’s definitely worth a shot.
“If it doesn’t work out, then it’s over,” he said.
Police Chief D.L. “Buster” Meadows said he hasn’t given the ordinance much thought at this point, but is ready to carry out the law and ensure his staff receive the proper training to enforce the policy.
“I really don’t have a problem with it as long as people abide by what the ordinance says,” Meadows said. "The main thing is for people to be responsible and not try to push it."
Clay Neely: firstname.lastname@example.org, @clayneely