Drinking on St. Pete streets to support the arts gets more study

Published Dec. 5, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Supporters of drinking on the street in certain parts of St. Petersburg moved closer to their goal Thursday after the City Council agreed to discuss it further.

Council member Jim Kennedy's idea to bolster arts funding by allowing some neighborhoods to allow drinking on the street has met silence so far from police, but Mayor Rick Kriseman says he's intrigued.

Artist-designed cups, buttons or bracelets would allow police to keep track of who paid to legally quaff beer, wine or liquor in public places like Beach Drive, Grand Central or other neighborhoods, Kennedy said.

And sales of those items would help secure a revenue stream for arts funding, he said.

Arts community leaders have expressed support for the plan, which resembles Tampa's recent move to allow — with several restrictions — drinkers to imbibe from city-approved cups on its Riverwalk.

At Thursday's meeting, some caution was added to the mix.

Council member Amy Foster said she was concerned that Grand Central might have establishments where filling up those $1 cups— a price floated by Kennedy— might lead to undesirable behavior.

Karl Nurse said he doesn't think police want the headaches associated with outdoor boozing. And he asked fellow council members to consider one neighborhood across the bay.

"I think most of us don't want to become Ybor City," Nurse said.

The council has directed $200,000 for arts funding from its contingency funds this year, but Kennedy has been vocal about finding a more secure source of cash.

City Attorney John Wolfe said his staff would have to check with the state — which has sway over much of the alcohol laws — to see if the city qualifies for an exemption for certain areas like Tampa did for the Riverwalk.

"Obviously, we'll have to do it properly," Kennedy said.

The council unanimously sent the proposal to the Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee for further discussion.

Amid some joking among council members about conducting informal research in cities that allow open-container areas, environmental activist Cathy Harrelson had a suggestion.

"Get rid of disposable," she said, referring to language in Kennedy's proposal about throwaway cups. "Artists are really good at repurposing materials."

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.