21 and up: Discussions begin on downtown Magnolia “entertainment district” | Local News

Could downtown Magnolia soon become an entertainment district? If local government discussions are any indication, a response from the Magnolia City Council could be here in the coming months.

Appearing before the town board Monday, Magnolia Economic Development Director Ellie Baker provided a first look at how the historic square could benefit from such a designation. If allowed, downtown patrons and restaurant patrons of legal age will be allowed to purchase and carry alcoholic beverages within a certain limit without violating any public container laws.

“In short, it allows a licensed restaurant to allow a customer to take their alcoholic beverage — in a certain size cup that’s marked in a certain way — out (of the establishment) and potentially into a other place in the entertainment district.” Baker said. “A lot of cities in Arkansas now have that and they haven’t had any problems.”

The Arkansas Legislature passed a law in 2019 that allowed cities to create “entertainment districts” to help boost tourism and local businesses. Since then, entertainment districts have sprung up across the state. The locations range from urban and tourist centers like Fayetteville, Little Rock and Hot Springs to smaller towns like Van Buren and even neighboring El Dorado.

“This is really a way for people to come to downtown Magnolia and enjoy everything that’s going on,” Baker added. “That could include our Farmers Market or our Second Thursday Market, and people will be able to take their drinks with them.”

The move could also add more business downtown, according to the city official.

“I talked to Mountain Home and they said two new restaurants have opened after the addition and the entertainment area,” she added.

Although the open carry of adult beverages within the district would be allowed, items such as bottles, cans and outside beverages not purchased from specified vendors would not be allowed. There are also likely to be restrictions on where older customers can legally purchase drinks.

“It would be too strict,” Baker said. “This is not something that encourages drinking in any way. It just creates a more inviting atmosphere.”

Bars may also be placed in entertainment areas to help discourage minors from purchasing and possessing alcohol and to limit drinking hours. In many districts, drinks must be in specially marked glasses and sold only through designated vendors. Time restrictions can also be placed in entertainment areas, allowing alcohol to be served only during certain times and days.

According to Baker, her plans call for similar regulations, but the final call rests with the City Council.

“This council can make any kind of designation for (the county) it wants,” she said.

Temporary permits, according to Baker, may also be granted for certain occasions — such as special events on the square. The Magnolia Bloom Festival currently allows a similar permit, but the area that sells alcohol must be barricaded from the rest of the event. By designating downtown Magnolia as an entertainment district, such restrictions can be removed.

“This would allow everyone to walk within the circle,” she added.

Since the district is still in the planning stages and would have to be approved by the City Council, Baker said Monday she didn’t yet have specific boundaries for the map, but noted it could be similar to the main area of ​​the Magnolia Bloom Festival. . However, she noted that any parking lots or church property should be off limits.

“I think that’s not appropriate,” she said.

She also added that law enforcement leadership in Magnolia was on board with such a county.

“I talked to the police chief … and it has the police chief’s stamp of approval on it,” Baker said. “There is absolutely no way I would want to submit this without his approval.”

Police Chief Todd Dew, according to Baker, has also suggested some security precautions for the district that could include additional video cameras for the area, as well as increased police presence — at least during the initial stages of the district and additional signage for the area and its limits.

“It’s very doable what he’s asking for,” she added. “I appreciate our police chief realizing the value this can bring.”

The signs could also be placed at stores or venues that did not want to allow patrons with drinks into their establishments, according to Baker.

Although this week’s address to the City Council was only informative in nature, Magnolia government leaders were encouraged to research the success of entertainment districts in other cities and arm themselves with knowledge of all possible rules and procedures for such a district.

“It’s very easy to assume what the rules are, versus what they actually are and what they can do for our center,” Baker added.

No one on the City Council spoke specifically against the idea of ​​an entertainment district in Magnolia, but Councilman Steve Nipper offered his opinion in favor of the issue.

“I fully support it,” he said. “I would hope that places like The Loft and Magnolia Arts could be included as well.”

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