The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District Board of Directors is recommending city directors approve a permanent entertainment district downtown. The city’s board of directors approved an ordinance establishing temporary entertainment districts March 17.
That ordinance mapped out an area downtown that could be activated as an entertainment district through the city’s special event permit process.
The 2019 Arkansas General Assembly adopted Act 812, which makes it lawful for cities to designate “entertainment districts” where patrons can walk outside a bar or restaurant with an open container of alcohol for public consumption. The act intends to “promote hospitality and tourism by establishing areas of a city or town that highlight restaurant, entertainment, and hospitality options,” Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said.
The act specifically allows for the consumption of alcohol in public when it is consumed within the parameters of a designated entertainment district. Though the act allows for public consumption of alcohol outdoors in these districts, it does not “relax or supersede” laws or regulations dealing with alcohol including public intoxication or minor in possession of alcohol.
The permanent downtown entertainment district recommended by the CBID would include part of the area marked as the temporary entertainment district downtown, but not all of it. It would include areas on both sides of Garrison Avenue from Third to 13th Street and Gateway Park as well as North A Street from Third to 13th and Rogers Avenue from Third through Gateway Park. It would also include jags to the north of that area to incorporate Brunwick Place and to the south to include The Bakery District.
It would not include the River Park, Harry E. Kelley Park, Ross Pendergraft Park or any of the area west of Third Street toward the Arkansas River. Dingman said the area would include most of the bars and restaurants with a liquor license in the downtown area.
The downtown areas already designated in the temporary entertainment district, including downtown parks, could still be included with the special event designation request for the entertainment district to be enacted. The proposed ordinance would include hours of operation for the district to between 10 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. each day. And participating businesses would utilize a different colored wristband for each day of the week. The wristbands will be issued once patrons were verified as being 21 or older and would prove that patrons had purchased a special cup for beverages on the correct day, Dingman said. This would keep patrons from keeping a cup they could fill with their own alcohol at any time to carry throughout the district.
According to the proposed ordinance, all alcoholic beverages sold as allowable for consumption within the permanent entertainment district must be in a paper or plastic cup, no larger than 16 fluid ounces, that has a name or logo of the establishment or event has been professionally printed. No alcoholic beverages in bottles, glass or cans will be permitted for sale or consumption outside of establishments in the district.
CBID board chair Bill Hanna said making a permanent entertainment district downtown would help the downtown area grow and flourish.
“It’s going to allow more pedestrian traffic in the area, more nighttime activities. There is another bar going in … on Rogers where the Core taproom was,” Hanna said. “The downtown core is going to be more pedestrian friendly, more restaurants, more nighttime activity leads to more residents and more services for residents like maybe a grocery store. An entertainment district doesn’t do that, but it is part of the puzzle. … I think we have to do it just to stay competitive.”
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved on Aug. 4 an ordinance to allow for a permanent entertainment district at Chaffee Crossing. The ordinance changed the “temporary” entertainment district at The HUB at Chaffee Crossing established when the board approved the temporary entertainment district on March 17.
The Springdale City Council adopted an ordinance to temporarily establish a Downtown Springdale Outdoor Dining District that would be an entertainment district in downtown Springdale Aug. 11. That ordinance allows for the entertainment district to be established for six months. In six months, a report is expected to be prepared for the city council to show metrics and outcomes of the district. The district will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fayetteville has a similar district that opened July 22.