NEW PORT RICHEY — Revelers attending downtown festivals — and the bars that serve them — can raise their glass to City Hall.
The City Council changed its alcohol ordinance Tuesday night to allow patrons of downtown bars to take their beer and wine into the street during special events, where they could drink in specially designated areas.
Downtown events such as Chasco Fiesta and the Cotee River Bike Fest already have alcohol sales, usually provided by beer trucks that raise money for local nonprofits. The change approved Tuesday should help bar owners who have lost business during the festivals because patrons couldn't take their drinks with them, the council majority said.
"I think this provides a level playing field for our local bars and restaurants," said Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe.
But the decision could hurt the groups that rely on beer truck sales for their fundraisers. In previous years, nonprofits like the New Port Richey Rotary Club, the Angelus and Southeastern Guide Dogs made money selling beer at festivals.
Two weeks ago, West Pasco Chamber of Commerce president Joe Alpine railed against the new measure and said events like the chamber's Bike Fest might not survive the ordinance change. He said one of the festival's main sponsors, Budweiser, said it will pull its $5,000 sponsorship if the city loosens its alcohol rules.
Alpine boycotted the final 4-1 vote on Tuesday, believing his objections would fall on the deaf ears of a council that had made up its mind.
"They aren't listening to us," Alpine said Wednesday. "And they are not considering what this will do to special events. They are trying to say that downtown businesses aren't already benefitting from these events, and that's just wrong."
Mayor Bob Consalvo echoed Alpine's concerns as he voted against the measure, saying it would cut too deeply into event planners' profits. "It's going to hurt them," Consalvo said.
In the past, residents have worried that expanding alcohol sales could lead to more public drunkenness at events. After Tuesday's meeting, New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens told the Tampa Bay Times that his officers will monitor the situation.
"We will need to work some events, assess things, look at what we did right, what we might need to change, so we don't come on too strong," Steffens said. "We want to provide that fun, family atmosphere that makes these special events great."