BY LANCE GRIFFIN
The Dothan Eagle
DOTHAN, Ala. — The Dothan City Commission may be asked soon to authorize open consumption of alcoholic beverages during designated events and in designated locations in the downtown area.
Jill Williams, executive director of the Downtown Group, urged the city to consider passing an ordinance that would create an entertainment district downtown, allowing patrons who purchase alcoholic beverages from licensed sellers to exit the premises and consume the beverages outdoors in the designated area.
"This allowance is key to competing with other communities that already offer open-container in city-designated entertainment districts, including Panama City," Williams said Tuesday during the city commission meeting.
A state law passed in 2012 allows municipalities to create such a district. Auburn, Montgomery, Decatur, Orange Beach and Huntsville have already created entertainment districts.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said he would need to review the ordinance, but supports the idea of an entertainment district downtown. Schmitz said he would like to have something in place by the end of March, when the city hosts the U.S.-China Manufacturing Symposium.
"We want to invite the community to join us downtown and interact with our guests," Schmitz said.
While the city would be able to tailor rules governing the district as long as it complied with the state law, it is believed any entertainment district ordinance would restrict patrons from bringing alcohol from outside the district for consumption inside the district. It would also prohibit any open container in any vehicle inside the district. No designated district area has been determined. The state law would allow the city to create up to two entertainment districts.
The general purpose of the ordinance would be to authorize open consumption during designated events, such as the popular FosterFest events on Fridays during the spring and summer.
The ordinance is expected to have some opposition.
"I believe it is inviting trouble. It is placing an extra burden on our police. I wouldn't feel safe downtown with my children with open consumption on the streets," said Rev. Ricky Plummer, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Dothan. Plummer publicly opposed an ordinance passed last year that authorized alcohol sales on Sunday. "At some point we are going to have to quit loosening up our laws, whether it is with alcohol or drugs. I suppose now if we have ever prosecuted anyone in town for an open container violation, we owe them an apology."