I would like to explain why I am pursuing a review of our city's alcohol ordinance during special events. One way to explain my rationale is to first explain what this proposed ordinance is not designed to do.
It is not designed to make alcohol more available at Chasco Fiesta. I feel that there is too much alcohol at Chasco as it is, and it does create a problem during the street parade, thus impacting the family atmosphere that the chamber and city work so hard to create. While Chasco is a 14-day event, that does not mean it would be issued a permit for the entire event.
Under my proposed changes, if beer and wine were served in Sims Park for an event, it would allow better use of our resources. Instead of targeting individuals who might be sneaking alcohol in the park or crossing Main Street with a beer, police could broaden the scope of their presence by targeting individuals who are actually creating a problem with drunken or criminal behavior.
Additionally, the proposed ordinance change is not designed to take the park away from the children. The changes I have proposed still create one of the most conservative and restrictive municipal alcohol ordinances in the Tampa Bay area. It creates a cap on the number of annual permits, and when there is a special event in the park, the organization that is benefiting would be required to hire an off-duty police officer to guard the playground. Even if all the permits were issued by the council, the park would be alcohol-free about 345 days of the year.
Many cities across Tampa Bay have had very successful events in their downtown area while allowing beer sales in their parks. These events bring people into the downtown, who in turn visit restaurants and other retail businesses. I believe it is a "win-win" when a nonprofit is able to raise funds that are poured back into the community, while at the same time generating exposure to the city and its businesses.
Presently, this city cannot compete for the type of world-class art festival, rib fest, blues fest, and other similar theme events that attract the baby boomers with disposable income. There have been nonprofits interested in bringing desirable events to our park, but when they find out there is no beer allowed, they lose interest. We have already lost events that were originally at the park, because the beer sales are an important source of revenue.
The Safety Harbor Parks and Recreation Department publishes a quarterly bulletin, and in large, bold letters, it prominently states: "Organized events held in public parks often bring substantial economic impact to their communities." And yes, they sell beer in their downtown park during these events. They tried doing it without the beer sales, and it was not as effective. Is that a sad commentary on society? Maybe, but it is reality.
Under my proposal, the council would retain control over which special events qualify for these limited permits. I think we should look for the kinds of events that will attract a family-friendly atmosphere. Some may think that beer sales automatically eliminate a family outing. I respectfully disagree, and would tell my own children that while they are attending an event that will have beer served, that money is being raised to help victims of child abuse, cancer, etc. The city owes it to the nonprofits and businesses of our community to do more to help promote them. To do so benefits us all.
Scott McPherson is mayor of New Port Richey.