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BID FOR BUD TO FLOW FREELY

Busch Gardens wants to be able to serve beer and liquor throughout its parks.

You might think Busch Gardens Tampa Bay - the theme parked owned by the brewer that makes Budweiser and Bud Light, the two top-selling beers in the world - would have kegs at every turn.

Beer for those who need a dash of courage to ride the floorless SheiKra 200 feet up. Beer for those who want to calm their nerves after riding the same roller coaster 90 degrees straight down.

But beer isn't everywhere at Busch Gardens, which is why the park and adjoining water attraction Adventure Island have petitioned the city to sell alcohol throughout.

Currently, beer sales and consumption is limited mainly to three restaurants in the 335-acre adventure park - Desert Grill, Zambia Smokehouse and Crown Colony House Restaurant. There's also beer in the Busch Gardens' Hospitality House, where patrons 21 and older can join the Brewmaster's Club and consume free samples of Busch beverages.

Busch Entertainment Corp. has asked the city for the option to sell beer, wine and liquor at all of its concession stands and let its guests roam on site with beverages in hand.

The park also would like to let guests buy Anheuser-Busch gift packs to take home, Busch spokesman Gerard Hoeppner said in a statement.

On Thursday, the City Council could set a Sept. 20 public hearing to expand the parks' wet zoning licenses, which date to 1989, said Abbye Feeley, city planning and development coordinator.

Many theme parks and sporting arenas already have similar allowances. Last week, the City Council gave initial approval to a wet zoning that opens Raymond James Stadium to liquor sales. Currently, hard liquor can be sold in only the club seating area, luxury suites, restaurants and a few other locations that seat about 15,000 people. Raymond James holds nearly 66,000 people. Beer and wine are sold throughout the stadium.

The St. Pete Times Forum and Tropicana Field both sell mixed drinks to patrons throughout their facilities.

No churches, schools, hospitals, public recreation areas, parks, day cares, halfway houses or alcohol rehabilitation centers need to be notified of Busch Gardens' request under Tampa's code because none are nearby. But two government agencies require notice because they have stations close by: Tampa police and fire rescue.

Police records show just one alcohol arrest at a Busch park in the last year, for underage drinking.

"Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island have always been committed to responsible alcohol sales and promoting responsible consumption," Hoeppner said, "and these standards remain unchanged."

Anheuser-Busch created the park in 1959 to entice people to try products from an on-site brewery. Guests surveyed Tuesday seemed anywhere from impartial to supportive of the request that would allow them to walk around with alcohol.

"I think it'd be a good idea," said Kelly Gaskin, 23, of Rochester. "It's definitely annoying to have to drink it in one place."

But one man had second thoughts.

"I'd imagine going on a roller coaster after a few beers isn't a good idea," said John Kinsella of Dublin, Ireland.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

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