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New Port Richey reviews allowing alcohol in Sims Park

NEW PORT RICHEY — Eight years after voters rejected the idea, City Council members on Tuesday will once again consider whether to allow alcohol sales and consumption in Sims Park during downtown events.

Often a controversial subject, the issue is the only item on the agenda for the council's work session. Council members will not vote on the matter but may decide to put it up to a vote at a future meeting.

As it stands now, city ordinance allows nonprofit civic groups putting on events such as Chasco Fiesta and Bikefest to sell alcohol only in Cavalaire Square, a pocket park south of Main Street.

People attending the events are expected to toss their beers and wine before heading into Sims Park, where the musical entertainment and vendors are usually set up.

Mayor Scott McPherson, who requested the subject be put on the agenda, acknowledged the change might not be popular. But he said the restriction is difficult to enforce, scares away programmers for larger events and doesn't make much sense.

"Does it become unethical north of Main Street whereas it's ethical south of Main Street?" said McPherson, who serves as chairman of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, which puts on Chasco and Bikefest.

Given that the city will no longer be offering $40,000 worth of special event funding to nonprofit groups like the chamber or Greater New Port Richey Main Street, he said, increased alcohol sales could generate more revenue for the groups. He noted that large events such as Ribfest, which is held in Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, flourish in large part because of alcohol sales.

But Betty Black, secretary of the parks and recreation advisory board, said there is a certain sanctity in Sims Park, which is also home to a popular children's playground.

"I don't want alcohol in the park with our children," she said. "It's not setting a good example. … I'm not a teetotaler, don't get me wrong — I enjoy my glass of wine before dinner. But I have no desire to drink in the park."

The advisory board voted at its last meeting against changing the alcohol ordinance, she said.

The quest to allow nonprofit groups to sell alcohol on city property began in 1999 as a fundraising idea for the Community Cooperative, which became Greater New Port Richey Main Street. On a 3-2 vote, the council approved an ordinance allowing groups to sell moderate amounts of beer and wine in designated areas at downtown events.

Residents balked, and the council quickly rescinded the ordinance and adopted a second one limiting sales to Cavalaire Square. A petition drive forced the issues to a public vote in 2000.

About 65 percent of voters were against selling alcohol in city parks, period. Slightly more, 69 percent of those who voted, were against selling alcohol at Sims Park.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

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If you go

The City Council work session begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 5919 Main St., New Port Richey.

New Port Richey reviews allowing alcohol in Sims Park 08/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:28pm]

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