Effective April 1, patrons in two districts in Mobile will be able to take an alcoholic drink out of a bar, but as Mobile Councilman John Williams put it, "No one gets everything they want.â€ť
The City Council voted in favor of creating two unconnected entertainment districts that center mainly along Dauphin Street. The two districts do not include three blocks on Dauphin from Franklin to Cedar streets, which is why City Council President Reggie Copeland abstained from the vote.
"I abstained because I didnâ€™t think it was fair to the businesses excluded that invested their private dollars into downtown Mobile,â€ť he said. "I support the Downtown Mobile Alliance and the districts, but I just think it is unfair.â€ť
The councilors voted to create the two entertainment districts that allow bar and restaurant patrons within the boundaries to leave the establishments with one alcoholic drink in a 16-ounce paper cup bearing the LoDa, bar or restaurant logo and drink it outside. However, the ordinance excludes the three parks within the districts â€” Bienville, Cathedral and Mardi Gras parks â€” and also has a specific timeframe.
The Public Safety Committee recommended to the council that outside drinking be allowed from 6:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. since it coincided with a single Mobile Police Department shift.
However, the Downtown Mobile Alliance lobbied for the time to be extended from 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Carol Hunter, communications director at Downtown Mobile Alliance, said having an earlier start time would in all probability not increase the need for police presence, but it would encourage a more vibrant downtown scene. She said the people who work downtown could get off work and head to a bar or restaurant and be under the umbrella of the entertainment district, which would allow for them to leave an establishment with one drink.
City Councilman and Public Safety Committee Chair Fred Richardson argued that the earliest the time should be is 5 p.m. since that is when retail stores generally close downtown.
"We just took smoking off the streets away to get the children away from it. Now weâ€™re turning around and putting them around drinking,â€ť he said. "We have to have truth to what we say.
"When itâ€™s 5 p.m., the retail shops close and the children leave. At 4 p.m. weâ€™re putting them in the bars when people can leave with a drink.â€ť
The majority of the council sided with the Downtown Mobile Alliance and voted to set the times from 4 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Richardson voted against it and Copeland abstained.
City Councilman William Carroll, who represents the area and sponsored the ordinance creating the districts, offered an amendment that would allow sidewalk cafes to serve alcohol outside in glass containers.
Hunter also spoke in favor of this decision saying it would help create a better downtown environment.
All the councilors supported this except for Copeland who abstained.
The biggest and most contentious issue throughout the process of creating the districts was the three blocks that have been excluded. The three blocks house residences and several businesses including the bars Alabama Music Box and the Haberdasher.
Chris Cole, Alabama Music Box manager, petitioned the council to include the bar in the district since it is a large part of the entertainment community.
"The Alabama Music Box brings in regional, national and international acts to Mobile. The Music Box embodies entertainment, but then itâ€™s not included in the so-called entertainment district,â€ť he said. "The Music Box contributes to the city and should be included in the district.â€ť
Elise Poche, co-owner of the Haberdasher, also urged the councilors to add the blocks to the district and said the decision to leave the area out was due to bad blood.
Poche and others with the Haberdasher and the Alabama Music Box were told by the Downtown Mobile Alliance and Carroll at a Feb. 14 meeting that other stakeholders had excluded the blocks at a Dec. 19, 2012, meeting. However, Poche said she spoke to people at the Dec. 19, 2012, meeting and was told that was not true.
Following the vote, Poche said she felt the councilâ€™s decision to exclude the three blocks was "highly unfair.â€ť
"The Haberdasher brings a lot to the table. We bring in money and jobs to the city,â€ť she said. "Itâ€™s very emotional for (the Haberdasher). We (Poche and co-owner Naude Gouws) put a year of blood, sweat, tears, hard work and manual labor into opening the Haberdasher.
"We dug trenches with jackhammers and poured the concrete ourselves so for this to be excluded seems like a slap in the face from the City Council.â€ť
One upside to the entertainment districts for the Haberdasher is that they have gained more support, Poche said.
As for what the Haberdasher does next, Poche said they are looking at several options.
"We have been contacted by several lawyers who said we have grounds for a lawsuit,â€ť she said. "However, Iâ€™m not sure what the next step is yet.â€ť
The Haberdasher and Alabama Music Box may be included, but they would have to wait a full year when the entertainment districts sunset. The stipulation was put in so that the council could re-examine the issue to see what works and what doesnâ€™t.
Poche said waiting a year would be too long for a business.
An issue that was not resolved was the estimated cost for additional public safety.
Originally Mobile Police Chief Micheal Williams said it would cost about $1.6 million for additional police and equipment. Since the council limited the time of the districts, Williams reduced that number to $686,000.
"The number is reduced, but until I can get people in place I will be spending $6,200 per week putting police out patrolling,â€ť he said.
Councilman C.J. Small asked the other councilors from where the money would come. Carroll said that was up to the mayor.
Jones responded, "Our comment is there is no line item in the budget for that.â€ť
The discussion was dropped after that, even though the start date for the two entertainment districts less than a month away.