Open containers may soon be permitted downtown
The Cairo mayor and council got their first look at a major revamping of the city’s alcohol ordinance Monday night, the culmination of many months of work by City Clerk Carolyn Lee.
This is the first major update in the ordinance in decades and under the proposed new ordinance many of the changes that have been made to state law have been incorporated into the city code.
Among the changes are the creation of two entertainment districts, the central business district on South Broad Street and the Grady Cultural Center, where alcoholic beverages may be carried in open containers provided those partaking are identified by a specified wristband.
Assisting the city clerk in the revising the ordinance was Cairo Police Chief Keith Sandefur, Building Official Brian Hayes, City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman and Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton.
“A lot of things have changed in state law over the years and what we have tried to do is mirror state law as much as possible,” the city clerk said.
She also said that many provisions in the code regulated activities that are unlikely to be used here, but “we have them if we ever need them.”
Under the proposed ordinances special events held in the two entertainment districts could include vendors selling alcoholic beverages. The ordinance stipulates that only those vendors who currently have consumption licenses or caterers working for nonprofit or community organizations would be permitted to sell alcoholic beverages in the entertainment districts.
The city clerk said the wording of the revised ordinance protects the interests of current retail and consumption license holders.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas concurred with Lee’s opinion that preference should be shown for local licensees, rather than opening it up to vendors from out of town.
“A lot of ordinances from other cities do not allow out of city or out of county vendors to purchase special event licenses,” the city clerk said.
“I agree with that,” Councilman Jerry Cox noted.
Councilman Douglas had a number of questions regarding the ordinance as the council reviewed it with the city clerk this week.
Primarily, Douglas questioned the requirement the establishments such as brewpubs or breweries being required to have fifty (50%) percent of their sales from the sale of food. The councilman said such establishments were focused on selling the beer they brew and not interested in having to serve food other than snacks or appetizers.
Nonprofit organizations, the Zebulon Theater, Downtown Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce, Grady County Historical Society and others can obtain special permits to sell alcoholic beverages at special events held at the theater, Grady Cultural Center, and the Grady County Museum and History Center.
However, the revised ordinance still does not allow bars or lounges that are separate and apart from a restaurant in the corporate limits of Cairo.
Councilman Demario Byrden questioned the logic of not permitting bars and the city clerk said that had been the council’s wishes, but noted it could be changed if the council wished to permit them.
Although a formal introduction and final vote on the ordinance is yet to take place, the council voted unanimously in support of the proposed license fees proposed by the city clerk.
The proposed fees include $25 per day for special event permits each for liquor and $25 per day for beer and wine. Fees for out-of-town licensed caterers range from $50 to $100 and the fee to transfer a permit from one location in the city to another location for an event is $60.
Councilman Cox said the biggest change in the ordinance is permitting open containers in the two entertainment districts and the sale of alcoholic beverages at events sponsored by local nonprofit organizations. “This isn’t adding Sunday sales or anything else different,” Cox said.
The council has said it would entertain putting the question of Sunday sales on an upcoming city election ballot if local retailers or license holders made a request to the council.
“So this allows you to sit on the sidewalk and drink beer downtown?” Councilman Lannis Thornton asked.
“Yes, if it is in a clear open container and they have the approved wristband,” Councilman Cox said.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman said the ordinance also dictates where alcoholic beverages can be consumed during special events.
Thornton asked if groups that sell tickets for admission at an event and part of the admission fee is for alcoholic beverages, would permits be required? According to the city clerk, if money changes hands then, yes, permits would be required.
In related news, Tijuana Maria Vasquez, owner of Queen of Arts Studio, 126 South Broad Street, has applied for a beer and wine consumption on premises license. Under the proposed new ordinance establishments such as art studios are permitted to have alcohol licenses.
City Clerk Lee requested the council approve the license temporarily until the new ordinance is adopted so that Ms. Vasquez can apply for a state license. Lee said on Tuesday that she is also revising the proposed ordinance to allow other establishments such as hair or nail salons to also be eligible to apply for alcohol consumption licenses.
The council unanimously approved the temporary permit.