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New Port Richey approves alcohol sale at some library events

NEW PORT RICHEY — The contentious campaign to sell alcohol at public events got an extra push Tuesday night when the City Council approved its sale at an unusual spot: the local library.

The council's vote makes the Main Street library the newest place for residents to buy beer or wine during up to three special events a year. In November, the city voted to allow alcohol sales at limited events at Sims Park and Orange Lake Park, on top of the pocket park at Cavalaire Square.

Tuesday's vote drew renewed criticism from some residents, who said the sales could spoil the family-friendly feel of downtown festivities. Pointing to a 2000 referendum in which about two-thirds of voters rejected the alcohol sales, some asked why the city continued to allow new drinking spots against residents' wishes.

"My question is: Where will this end?" resident Walter Casson wrote in a letter to the council. "Is the City Recreation Complex next? … What about the new public works compound? Would that make a good place for a Holiday Party?"

Event organizers and supporters, however, call the sales a financial success.

The Cotee River Bike Fest sold about $22,000 in beer in October, according to the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. Sales in Sims Park during last year's Chasco Fiesta brought in $8,000. And three Greater New Port Richey Main Street events — the Cotee River Seafood Festival, the Main Street Blast and A Night in the Tropics — yielded a total of more than $12,000 in beer and wine profits.

Hoping to raise cash after closing time, the library's advisory board asked for a similar approval that would allow them to sell alcohol at soirees like book readings or author signings, said former board president and council member-elect Bob Langford. "I don't understand how we could possibly be hurting by offering wine and cheese, or wine and chocolate-dipped strawberries," Langford said. "The idea that people would be coming to the library to get drunk is beyond my wildest imagination."

Still, the ordinance sets some limits to the libations on city-owned property. The city can allow beer or wine at a maximum of eight events a year, excluding up to three from the library. Organizers must pay for security to patrol the gates and monitor alcohol-free zones like playgrounds. And special events with alcohol will, unlike dry events, need an extra step of approval from the City Council.

The council on Tuesday approved the measure unanimously, although council member Judy DeBella Thomas was out sick.

Council member Bob Consalvo, who voted against the sales in previous meetings, said police officers have seen no alcohol-related problems in the two years since the sales began.

In fact, officers are finding they have less to watch for now that visitors can drink legally, Mayor Scott McPherson said. He sees the alcohol as a big potential boom for the library's ailing budget, not a slippery slope into drunken debauchery.

"They're talking about having some wine and cheese and a poetry reading, for crying out loud," he said. "I don't think you're going to have gangsters coming to a poetry reading."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

New Port Richey approves alcohol sale at some library events 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:56pm]

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