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September 26, 2013

City creates ‘Special Events District’ around Festhalle, Depot Park

Open containers allowed in zone; can be opened and closed at city’s discretion

CULLMAN — With the downtown blocks around Depot Park and Festhalle Market Platz becoming a popular site for local events and festivals, city officials have cherry-picked concepts from larger cities to create the state’s first-ever Special Events District (SE-1).

Modeled loosely after Entertainment Districts in larger cities like Huntsville, the special zone will allow for alcohol sales and open containers in a several block area while in use. But, unlike those zones in larger cities, Cullman officials retain the power to “open” and “close” the district between events.

“We get so many requests for special events, and they’re always in that area,” city council member Clint Hollingsworth said. “So, we thought why not create a special event zone and just make it designated in that area? We thought it made a lot of sense to do this.”

Under the new district, a visitor to a local festival like Oktoberfest would theoretically be able to buy a beer at Festhalle, then walk over to Depot Park to shop or view exhibits. Previously, alcohol was contained to very specific, smaller area as part of the permitting process.

But, when there are no events taking place, the blocks revert back to a normal downtown area under a normal, no-open container law.

Hollingsworth said the change is a “common sense” move, as it will allow more openness and connectivity for local events.

“For example, you might have a biergarten on one side, and wing sales on the other, but the two couldn’t connect,” he said. “This will enable events to have a larger, more inclusive flow.”

The boundaries of the district run south by Clark Street, bounded on the west by CSX Railroad property, bounded on the north by the parking and facility housing at the Cullman Police Department and bounded on the east by Second Avenue. The district can contain some or all areas depending on the size and scope of a specific event. The overall district will likely be marked with painted boundaries on the sidewalk.

The site will serve as an overlay district for property owned by the City of Cullman, which will be leased or managed by the city Parks and Recreation Board. City officials have been working with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, as well as a local agent, to create the unique district. Cullman didn’t fit into the established open-container district model used in larger cities due to size, so both sides worked to create a new zone that will be piloted in Cullman.

The creation of the Special Events District also marks a major change to how alcohol sales are handled at the site, giving the city more direct control by making the Park and Recreation Board the only designated vendor allowed to sell alcohol in the zone. City parks director John Hunt said the park board will likely sub-license vendors to handle alcohol sales at events, such as Oktoberfest, assuming they meet all pre-existing requirements as a vendor.

The city passed an ordinance creating the zone earlier this week, contingent on the park board’s agreement with the proposal. The park board had previously expressed concern about potential liability under the new design, though city officials say there is no more or less liability than with any previous events hosted on city property.

“We had a meeting of our executive committee [Wednesday] and it looks like they’ll be giving it a favorable review for passage,” Hunt said. “The parks board was just trying to make sure we’re all on the same page with the council and city attorney. I really think this will be a great benefit.”

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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