St. Pete's Edge District wants to go wet
Thanks to Booker Creek, that modest waterway some baseball fans might have noticed while waiting for the gates to open at Tropicana Field, the city's Edge District may have an opening to allow drinkers to imbibe on the streets.
A state law governing such "wet zones", or as the Edge Distric Business Association prefers, "Specialty Center Zone," allows them where at least 50,000-square-feet of entertainment space is next to a navigable body of water. The federal government considers Booker Creek to be navigable.
That suprised some St. Petersburg City Council members.
"C'mon on, dude," said Charlie Gerdes, who said he was uneasy with exploiting the federal loophole. Booker Creek might be navigable by a kayak, he said.
Even so, Gerdes and other members on the Council's public services committee unanimously approved the initial step to draft an ordinance that would allow drinkers to stroll in the neighborhood bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Street, 16th Street and 1st Ave N and S. up to nine times a year.
The idea is to "sip and stroll" for special events in the up-and-coming district, which will have 17 places to buy alcohol within the next few months, said Barbara Voglewede, executive director of the Edge Business District Association.
Tampa has a similar zoning designation for its Riverwalk district. The state law governing the districts was originally conceived to help Miami neighborhoods that wanted to encourage shopping while drinking, said Michael Dema, assistant city attorney.
Previous attempts to introduce wet zones to the city have failed. Council member Jim Kennedy's idea to allow imbibers to stroll Beach Drive with a special cup died amid resident and some businesss concerns.
After that defeat, Kennedy sought out the Edge District. The business association vetted the idea and came up with a plan to allow nine events that would have to be approved by the council, possibly with a public hearing.
The idea did raise some concerns. Gerdes and Karl Nurse worried about safety and lawlessness since police wouldn't be required to be present during the events.
Nurse also thought the higher traffic speeds through the district was a recipe for tragedy. Police said main thoroughfares, especially 1st Avenues North and South don't have as many stoplights as the heart of downtown and traffic frequenty reaches higher speeds.
"If you've got intoxicated people on 1st Avenue North and South with those speeds," Nurse said. "That's a recipe for angst and likely death."
Several committee members asked that police be mandated to be present during the events in the ordinance.
They unanimously approved to consider an ordinance at a future meeting. If the committee approves the proposal, it would proceed to a vote by the entire council.