Some River Market District clubowners would like an open-container law, but with special considerations that aren't in any of the proposals they've heard so far. On Wednesday, the River Market District Neighborhood Association voted against supporting an amendment to the open-container bill that's being pushed by the Arkansas Municipal League and expected to be discussed in the upcoming stage legislative session.
The state legislature passed an entertainment district/open contain bill two years ago, but Gov. Mike Huckabee vetoed it.
The River Market association members expressed problems with a bill that didn't express who would pay for security and cleanup after special events, when the open-container law would be in effect in the district, as well as addressing provisions about exclusive sales for River Market bar owners.
Chris King, owner of Sticky Fingerz and Rumba/Revolution, said he could not support an amendment to a bill that didn't specifically limit sales of alcohol to the clubowners in the River Market. His fear was a street vendor or parking lot owner coming in during special events and setting up alcohol sales. King and his business partner, Suzon Awbrey, also noted a street hotdog vendor and a cigarette-wielding pizza vendor who have been operating in the district in recent weeks.
Presley Melton, owner of the Melton Building in the district, made a motion late in the meeting that the association not support any bill coming up in the legistature to grant entertainment district status to the River Market until amendments were in place that addressed security and cleanup concerns, as well as access into the entertainment district during special events.
Bobby Roberts of the Central Arkansas Library System drew up an amendment for the open-container legislation that that the group voted down, with Roberts casting the only vote for the amendment. He then moved that the group urge the city to withdraw support of the current legislation, supported by the Municipal League, and that passed unanimously.
Street closings were a concern to the members as well, and Jo Melton expressed concerns about obtaining support money from the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission in light of recent newpaper reports about its funding practices. "We've been a team player in the past, but now I can't be a team player with what we've seen."
Mary Ann Harring of Ten Thousand Villages was concerned how special-event street closings might hamper the retail sector of the district, but was assured by other members and assistant city manager Bryan Day that most of the special events that would lead to street closings would be scheduled for hours after regular business had closed.
Summer Duvall of the Flying Saucer, a recent transplant from Memphis, was asked about Beale Street's entertainment district and how clubowners responded to it. She said Beale Street was "gross" and, though Beale Street tried to enforce a 21-and-up age limit in its closed-off area, that closing off streets to allow open-container drinking would not stop would not "stop a 25-year-old from trying to get an 18-year-old drunk."
Day said, "If you had an entertainment district/open-container law, would the business at the clubs be better? That's something we don't know."
The clubowners expressed hope that the city would spend more A&P dollars in the district and police the district better if an open-container bill became law in the upcoming session.
"Nobody knows if [the law] will throw off enough dollars to the district to pay for itself," said Roberts, whose biggest concern was the cleanup issue. He said he supported whichever direction the association wanted to go on the amendment and bill.
Day said the state's hospitality industry is behind an entertainment district bill as a way to increase tourism. Hot Springs was among the cities supporting the bill's passage in 2004.
Other club managers at the meeting were Carla Farquar of Willie D's Piano Bar and Tim Chappell of Gusano's, which partners with Ernie Biggs Piano Bar. Tim Heiple is president of the association.