GULFPORT — Long considered by some to be inconsistent with the city's waterfront redevelopment district, the notion of liquor stores downtown may soon shed its stigma.
The City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to allow the sale of package liquor downtown.
The proposal would allow for a liquor store in the waterfront redevelopment district if it was attached to a restaurant, and if no more than 50 percent of gross revenue be from the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages on or off the premises. The permit would be nontransferable, and the City Council would have final approval.
Over the years, residents and council members have voiced concerns that such a business could attract an unsavory element inconsistent with the family-friendly atmosphere the city strives to maintain.
Council member Jennifer Salmon is not in favor of a liquor store downtown.
"I'm not particularly excited about having this in an area next to the beach, where someone can technically open things up as soon as they come out the door, even though it might be illegal to do so,'' she said.
Police Chief Robert Vincent said it would be in the best interest of anyone selling package liquor downtown to be vigilant.
"Because the store would be attached to a restaurant, more than a liquor license is at stake if patrons violate the open-container law," he said. "If a customer bought a bottle of vodka, say, and then consumed it on the beach, the restaurant could lose its operating license. I don't think any business owner wants to take that chance."
Responding to concerns that a liquor store downtown might result in an increase in crime, Vincent was optimistic.
"Gulfport has one package liquor store and a restaurant that sells package beer. We reviewed our calls to both establishments and found nothing related directly to the sale of packaged alcohol," he said, adding the restrictions in the ordinance will allow his department to keep things "as they should be."
Lori Russo, owner of Sea Breeze Manor Bed & Breakfast at 5701 Shore Blvd. S and president of the Gulfport Chamber of Commerce, said she won't "freak out" if the ordinance passes, though she doesn't really see the need for a liquor store downtown.
"We already have great bars and restaurants where anyone can get a rum and Coke if they want," she said. "I just don't think we need it on the waterfront. I think a store like that has the potential of bringing in an element that runs counter to Gulfport's desire to remain family friendly."
To date, no one has applied to open a liquor store downtown, City Manager Jim O'Reilly said. "There are no active applications," he told the council.
Mayor Sam Henderson stressed that the council wasn't talking about a stand-alone package store.
"It'll have to be tied to a restaurant that's already serving food," he said. "We have put all kinds of protections in place so we don't end up with the worst possible idea of a liquor store you can imagine. If we want to say they can't place giant liquor posters in the windows or sell small airplane bottles … we have that right.''
Diane Craig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.