NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials have taken the first step toward easing the flow of alcohol from bars during special events.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow patrons to buy a drink at a bar, then bring their beverage into the street during festivals and drink within specially-designated areas. The measure could get the final approval at a second hearing in two weeks.
The council majority says the measure would help local businesses, which currently take a hit on alcohol sales during downtown festivals because patrons can't leave with their drinks.
"As far as I can tell, we are evening the playing field for the folks who are here year round," council member Ginny Miller said.
But local event planners, specifically the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, say the measure would hurt the nonprofits who rely on beer truck sales to raise money at the special events. With more alcohol on the street, event organizers could also face higher insurance premiums for hosting the festival, chamber president Joe Alpine said.
"We are assuming all the liability, and doing all the work to put these events on," Alpine said.
After the council approved the first reading, Alpine said the city is putting a popular event in jeopardy. He said the chamber has been looking at other venues outside the city for its annual Cotee River Bike Fest, as one of the main sponsors, Budweiser, said it will pull its $5,000 sponsorship if the city loosens its alcohol rules.
Mayor Bob Consalvo voted against the measure, agreeing with Alpine that it would badly cut into profits for special event planners.
"It has to," he said.
During the meeting, Alpine also decried what he sees as the council's effort to pit event planners against bar owners.
"Why do you have to tag this as us-against-them?" he said.
One bar owner didn't take kindly to Alpine's comments.
"I thought the purpose of the chamber of commerce was to help businesses, instead of trying to compete with businesses," said Little Coronas Cigar Lounge owner Tim Fussell, who is also Port Richey's fire chief.
Several people also expressed concern that easing restrictions could fuel more drunkenness on the street during events.
"It seems like it would be working against a good family event," said local pastor Leonard Lord.
Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe has said it's "ludicrous" that people cannot leave bars with a beer while they are standing a few feet away from someone on the street sipping a beverage bought from a truck. "Lighten up a little bit, loosen up a little bit and enjoy the special events," Marlowe said.