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DBA, City Of Wilmington Discuss Creation Of Outdoor Social District

By Jenny Callison, posted Sep 17, 2021
A downtown social district, in which bar patrons can consume beverages outdoors, could be established on the Riverwalk in downtown Wilmington. (File photo)
If an organization of downtown businesses has its way, people will soon be able to stroll the Riverwalk with an alcoholic beverage in hand.
The recently passed North Carolina House Bill 890, an omnibus package that makes a variety of changes to the state's alcoholic beverage laws, enables municipalities to create outdoor "social districts” in which restaurants can sell alcoholic beverages for patrons to consume within the district boundaries.
“Asheville, Charlotte and Raleigh are already involved” with this initiative, said Terry Espy, president of the Downtown Business Alliance. After the group’s meeting last Monday, she reported that members are in support of creating such a district downtown. Other cities such as Huntsville, Alabama, and Savannah, Georgia, have had similar ordinances for a while.
DBA has approached the Wilmington City Council to advocate for the creation of a social district, Espy said, adding that Mayor Bill Saffo attended DBA’s recent meeting to field questions.
“He said he is excited about this,” she said. “The district could encompass just the Riverwalk or the whole CBD [Central Business District]."
Saffo assured DBA members that the proposal will move forward, but relevant city departments such as police, public services and legal, need to work out how the social district would be implemented and managed to ensure public safety. And this will take time, Espy cautioned.
The bill specifies that the boundaries of a social district must be clearly marked, and “open carry” drinks must be in official, recognizable containers. And participating restaurants will be responsible for their sales.
“There will be no service to people who are intoxicated,” Espy said. “There will be a lot of eyes on this.”
DBA has a positive record of working with the city on innovative projects, she added, pointing to the success of last year’s Downtown Alive initiative, which allowed restaurants and retailers to extend their service areas out onto Front Street, and to install parklets in parking spaces on some side street areas.
“Most restaurants on Front Street want [the social district] to happen, and DBA members overwhelmingly want to see this happen,” Espy said. “We just need to methodically navigate through all aspects of the city’s responsibilities.”
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