Monroe City Council consider repealing alcohol policies in the downtown Entertainment District

MONROE, GA (April 3, 2023) – The Monroe City Council is expected to consider repealing parts of its alcohol ordinance at next week’s City Council meeting. More specifically, it will discuss the parts of the ordinance in the Entertainment District that allow patrons to carry alcoholic beverages in a clear city cup from one establishment to another or to a downtown event.

The matter was raised at the March City Council meeting by Councilman Larry Bradley, who confirmed it will be on the April City Council agenda, at least for more discussion.

“The discussion could lead to a vote,” Bradley said, saying he had not had any specific complaints on it, but going on to explain why he raised it last month. “For some time now I have become increasingly concerned about substance abuse (including alcohol) and the resulting issues. Whether it is family violence issues or automobile crashes, addiction, or others, our young people are increasingly being exposed to problems. I believe the City has the responsibility to be aware of the example we may set for the young people of our community. I do not believe that people walking the streets of Monroe with drink in hand or people standing in line at a concert to get an alcoholic drink sets the right example.”

Bradley also said he was concerned about the city allowing ads supporting alcohol in city-branded newsletters, like one from Downtown Monroe recently with ads promoting Beer Day or a cocktail menu that he believed was crude and demeaning to women.

When asked about it, Monroe Mayor John Howard confirmed it would be on the agenda, saying as Mayor and Council it was “extremely important that we do what is in the long-term best interests of the city and her citizens.” He said that he, however, did not support repealing the Entertainment District that governs those policies.

“Regarding Mr. Bradley’s attempt to repeal the Entertainment District, his stance on alcoholic beverages at City events, and his stance against our City of Monroe branded cups, he is allowing his personal feelings to outweigh what is best for the City of Monroe. Over the five years since our Entertainment District was initiated (and expanded), we have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests, redeveloped empty, forgotten spaces, and built entirely new buildings to better enhance livability in Downtown Monroe,” Howard said, going on to list some of the development in downtown Monroe in recent times. “People have invested millions of dollars to build thriving businesses to serve our citizens and our guests. Our Entertainment District has been vital to attracting an award-winning redevelopment of a former gas station – LR Burger, redevelopment of the Wayfarer, redevelopment of Sanders Consign and Design and The Brown Fig, redevelopment of the building that houses Damler Lighting and Addison’s Wonderland, the establishment of Broad Street Tavern, the redevelopment and investment at The Roe, Southern Brewing, and Strange Taco, and the scrape and rebuild that is Silver Queen. The tax dollars that have stayed home have allowed us to enhance our public safety department, as we have seen an expansion of our police force, which has resulted in a reduction in Part I and Part II crimes. With this smart growth, we have purchased the old fertilizer plant (resold to house Southern Ox, Cowork at the Metro, and Rustic Roots) and are developing our DownTown Green (August completion expected), which, in turn, encouraged investment in the new Amici, along with new neighborhoods and homes along Madison and Davis Streets.”

For his part, Councilman Norman Garrett backed up Bradley’s stance, saying he too had concerns about the issue, most notably the name he believes Monroe is getting of being an “openly drinking city.” He said he’d had seen social media sharings that people were specifically choosing to come to Monroe for that reason – that people can drink all the beer they want as long as they’ve got a clear container.

“I don’t drink so it’s not of real concern but I think it is something we need to actually look into. I’m kind of behind Larry as far as what they’re labeling Monroe – as a drinking city – people coming from a different city to be able to do this stuff openly,” Garrett said. “I’m thinking that anybody being allowed to drink like that at some point is going to be intoxicated. What I’ve noticed is that nobody seems to be seeing anybody being arrested for drinking or drinking and driving. So I definitely think it is something that needs to be looked into.”

However, Garrett did note that the City Council had voted for the the ordinance that allowed for those measures. Both he and Bradley were on the city council in 2018 when the members had voted unanimously to approve it.

Councilman David Dickinson, who has Broad Street Tavern and Grill downtown, said he was more inclined to take the opposite position.

“First, we’re not doing anything that’s out of the ordinary. Second, I don’t think we’ve turned Monroe into Bourbon Street in New Orleans,” Dickinson said, adding that Garrett’s point about there not being any arrests in fact illustrates that it is not being abused. “Citizens and visitors who choose to-go cups are not getting sloppy drunk and behaving improperly.”

Dickinson said he also had concerns about the city censoring certain ads as it could get into First Amendment violation issues. He said he felt that the ordinance as it stands is not broken and he didn’t see a need right now to fix it.

“I’m not opposed to a discussion but I am opposed to making any changes to anything we have in place,” Dickinson said.

Howard said there have been very few alcohol-related negatives.

“As a matter of fact, it promotes responsibility of all concerned. As with the stance taken by Council in March, 2020, regarding the pandemic, it is our job to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Monroe, not to limit those rights and freedoms. We trust the people to make grown-up decisions and behave in a manner that will not infringe on the rights and freedoms of their neighbors and friends,” Howard said. “Repealing the Entertainment District, removing alcohol from city-sponsored events, and removing our brand from the hands of those experiencing life in the Best Small Town in America is a tremendous step back. Final note, our Entertainment District Ordinance has been copied by Forsyth and Lawrenceville, along with similar districts that are now in Suwanee and Duluth. Success begets success.”

A group of Monroe residents who also are against repealing the Entertainment District and removing alcohol from city-sponsored events are expected to turn up at the City Council meeting on April 11th to voice their opposition to any change.

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