Beer, wine sales at Sims Park to be reviewed

NEW PORT RICHEY — They rode their Harley-Davidsons through the streets, listened to the Boneyard Dogs and checked out motorcycle gear during this month's Cotee River Bike Fest.

But for the first time in the festival's history, biker enthusiasts could enjoy beer for $3 a cup at Sims Park.

On Tuesday, the City Council will discuss how long that will last.

A controversial year-old ordinance allowing alcohol sales at special events in Sims Park could end in December unless the council extends it.

Proponents of the ordinance say beer sales attract larger sponsors and raise money for nonprofit groups. Opponents argue that alcohol deflates the family-friendly feel of events in the city's marquee park.

How did the one-year trial period go?

Beer sales were a cash cow for three nonprofit organizations that sold the beverage in Sims Park during the bike fest.

Last year, when the Cotee River Bike Fest could only serve alcohol near Orange Park and other downtown areas, beer sales totaled $1,385.

This year, with beer sales also allowed in Sims Park, the figure reached $3,104.

Aside from raising money for the New Port Richey Rotary Club, the Angelus and Southeastern Guide Dogs, the alcohol sales allowed people in the crowd of about 35,000 to enjoy the event with a cup of beer, said Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

"It's not like we're putting on a beer-drinking contest or something to see people get drunk," he said. "That's not the purpose. It's a social thing people enjoy."

Despite some residents' concerns there would be a surge in alcohol-related incidents, there were none, said Capt. Jeff Harrington of the New Port Richey Police.

"Attendees were well-behaved, and there were no violations of law," he said after the bike fest. "There weren't even disturbances. We were happy with the conduct of the attendees."

The city has long allowed beer and wine to be sold in parts of downtown during special events, but Sims Park was off limits until last year, when Mayor Scott McPherson proposed adding the park to the list. The park anchors most of the city's main events.

"In a bad economy, nonprofits help the most needy in the community," he said. "It's a win-win."

In a 4-1 vote last year, the council gave the ordinance a one-year tryout period, limiting the sales to six events. Council member Marilynn de Chant dissented.

The March Chasco Fiesta was the first event to sell alcohol at Sims Park. The event saw about $8,000 in beer and wine sales, said Wendy Brenner, executive director of the Chasco Fiesta. That money was divided between the Sertoma Club, which sells the beer, and the Chasco event fund.

City Manager Tom O'Neill said people who go to festivals in have come to expect beer and wine at certain kinds of events.

"We had a lot of complaints when it wasn't available," he said.

But Greg Giordano, a member of the city's parks and recreation advisory board, said the city parks are "family-oriented" places, and that anyone drinking irresponsibly could set a bad example for kids.

Giordano opposed the ordinance last year, and the results of the city's trial run haven't changed his mind.

"The city is left holding the tab after these events, and there's liability if someone gets drunk or injured and hurts someone," he said. "Then, the city is open to a lawsuit. It may not have happened, but it could."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

if you go

Okay for 2010?

The New Port Richey City Council will hear the first of two readings of an ordinance on alcohol sales at special events in Sims Park. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 5919 Main St. The second reading will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 3 at City Hall.

Beer, wine sales at Sims Park to be reviewed 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 1:36pm]

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