New Port Richey City Council members approved Tuesday the first draft of an ordinance amendment that would permit customers to carry an open container of beer bought at a bar into a special event downtown.
The council voted 4-1 to give the ordinance change initial approval, with Mayor Bob Consalvo casting the lone no vote. The amendment still needs to be given final approval by a council vote at a second reading at a future meeting.
The proposed change relaxes the city’s alcohol ordinance restrictions during special events. It allows for customers to carrry open containers of beer or wine bought at local bars and restaurants into special events on public right-of-way and streets and drink them in specific areas of the events.
The current city alcohol ordinance forbids people from having an open container of alcohol in hand while on public property.
However, people are currently allowed to possess and drink beer or wine on public streets during city–approved special events organized by nonprofits. But only if the beverages are sold in a secured area of the event by the event’s host organization or its vendors.
After downtown bar owners said in September that the ordinance is interfering with their sales during special events, city council members said they were open to exploring changing the ordinance.
The ordinance amendment “really is an issue of fairness and equity,” Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said.
It seems “ludicrous” that a visitor can go up to the gate of a business’s patio and then must rid themselves of their beer before stepping off a property and joining the people enjoying a beer at a special event just on the other ide of the gate.
“What I would like is for everybody to lighten up a little bit, loosen up a little bit and enjoy the event without these artificial things that are really putting our downtown businesses at a disadvantage,” he said.
City Councilwoman Ginny Miller said New Port Richey’s businesses, or “year-round vendors for lack of a better word,” deserve the council’s support.
“As far as I can tell, we are evening the playing field for the folks who have a stake here all year-round,” she said. “I don’t think it will take away from events."
Event planners with the nonprofit West Pasco Chamber of Commerce have expressed concern about the proposed amendment affecting event sponsorships and vendor sales.
The West Pasco Chamber is “helping the businesses keep their doors open,” by holding events downtown, especially the popular Cotee River Bike Fest in October, Alpine said. The Chamber assumes the liability of putting on events and the responsibility of bringing thousands of guests downtown, Alpine said.
“We’ve already been told by one of our major sponsors that if this is passed, they will not support us as they have in the past, and that is Budweiser,” Alpine said.
Consalvo also expressed concern about the change affecting alcohol sales that bring in revenue for nonprofits.
"I feel by allowing this to happen, it’s going to decrease the revenue from special events,” Consalvo said. “It has to."
To businesses, he said: "If we didn't have a bike fest or we didn't have a Chasco Fiesta, I would think think that your bottom line would be hurt."
Tim Fussell, owner of on Grand Boulevard, said that event vendors can sell beer on the city streets, businesses just want the same privilege.
“We’re not trying to take the money from the nonprofits,” he said.
*Article updated 8:40 p.m. Jan. 20