Open alcohol containers could soon be a common sight in the downtown area after the Laramie City Council on Tuesday approved a measure to allow for the practice in an attempt to help boost local businesses.
The resolution creating an open container area in the downtown district would have allowed businesses in the district with retail, microbrewery or winery liquor licenses to sell beverages from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday beginning July 16 and continuing through Labor Day. There are 14 businesses that meet that requirement in the downtown district. City staff worked with the Laramie Main Street Alliance to bring the proposal forward as part of City Council’s goals to strengthen the local economy.
“The feeling behind this for staff is that it would allow people to enjoy a beverage and do some extra shopping while encouraging people to spend a little more time in our downtown district,” Assistant City Manager Todd Feezer told council members.
The council ultimately approved the resolution, but with a delayed start date and for a four-week trial period after which council members will have the choice to extend the open container district.
The proposal wasn’t just accepted wholesale by council members or members of the public in attendance who brought up concerns that the move would only exacerbate existing problems with alcohol in the area.
Downtown building and business owner Brett Glass (who is also a candidate for city council in Ward 1) said the measure was a “terrible idea.” Glass brought up a litany of concerns that were echoed by other commenters, including increased littering, fights, vomit and urine in sidewalks and alleyways, underage consumption, unregulated overconsumption and increased drunk driving.
“We already have constant problems with drunks downtown,” Glass candidly told the council.
Glass and two other public commenters said the measure wouldn’t really help downtown businesses, save a select few that would be selling the beverages. Additionally, some members of the public brought up concerns about creating an environment where COVID-19 could spread.
“We’re in the middle of a COVID problem, and we’re gaining cases by the day,” said Christopher Stratton during a public comment period. “The big thing we should be looking at, we’re trying to open a college, we’re trying to get our schools open and this isn’t going to help that at all. It’s not really in any instance going to help businesses except for the bars, and we know right now city council and the city do not do any mitigation on trying to keep those facilities practicing safe distancing. You add alcohol to it and send them outside without masks, how are you going to manage social distancing?”
Earlier in the meeting, council discussed when to address a resolution that would put a request into the Albany County health officer to work with the state on implementing a city-wide mask requirement for indoor public spaces. The measure is expected to be discussed at the next available council meeting — possibly July 14.
Feezer said the resolution wasn’t intended to create a special event that drew large crowds of people to downtown during specific times. Rather, he said, it was meant to be an operational change that encouraged people to come downtown and stay longer, patronizing retailers and restaurants. Laramie Police Department Chief Dale Stalder was supportive, Feezer said, and that the city planned on an instructional campaign for businesses that could help mitigate concerns about littering and overserving. There was not, however, a plan already in place for any additional cleanup, providing porta potties or enforcement that some said they were concerned about.
“If there is a problem with enforcement, that does fall to the police department,” Feezer said. “As far as cleanup, I would hope that we can improve our garbage pickup and that this community is willing to make sure their cups make it into the garbage.”
Shantel Anderson, a downtown business owner, said she spoke with numerous fellow business owners who wanted to see the resolution passed. Limiting the open container hours to 8 p.m., she said, would likely make it so the city would avoid the worst of the concerns relating to littering and illegal behavior.
“It’s going to enhance people being able to spend money in the downtown district,” Anderson said.
Mallory Bond, owner of Bond’s Brewing, said she disagreed with the idea the event would attract overconsumption of alcohol.
“People are maybe going to have one or two drinks and wander around,” Bond said. “I really think this will benefit more than just these few establishments that can sell the drinks. Personally it’s nice to grab and drink and walk around. And with COVID, part of it is allowing outdoor seating and experiences, and this is allowing that.”
Bond also said she would personally “take point of contacting all the business owners to organize a clean up crew once or twice a week.”
In trying to address some of the council members’ concerns, Feezer suggested moving the start date back to July 16, offering the idea that it would give time for educating the public. The council also debated having a trial period for the open container district by establishing an end date before Labor day and revisiting the issue at a future meeting, with Councilwoman Erin O’Doherty suggesting a period of two weeks. Feezer responded to O’Doherty’s amendment with a three-week trial period.
Councilman Paul Weaver, however, argued for a four-week trial period beginning July 16 with the idea that it would give more of an accurate picture of what the city could expect over a longer period of time.
“I think with the first couple of weekends, you always run the risk of not being representative of how it’s going to go,” Weaver said. “Maybe the first night, it will be popular and something won’t be ideal, then the next three weekends in a row the businesses and residents have adjusted and are enjoying it. I think that takes a four-week trial to really get a feel for this.”
Weaver’s amendment was adopted on a 7-2 vote with Charles McKinney and Jessica Stalder opposed.
The final resolution as amended to create an open container district downtown beginning July 16 and continuing for four weeks was narrowly passed through on a 5-4 vote. Mayor Joe Shumway, Erin O’Doherty, McKinney and Stalder voted “no” on the resolution.