What’s going on with Gainesville’s open container ordinance
by Danny Hughes, Loosey’s Downtown
A few weeks ago, the City Commission voted to reinstate the old open container ordinance, which had been repealed during Covid to let outdoor service exist. The vote was 4-3 in favor of returning to a pre-Covid version of the open container ordinance, which is rather selectively enforced, and effectively no alcohol on the streets, anywhere, ever. So this solution was proposed: an entertainment district (the idea has been dubbed ACE for the time being: Arts-Culture-Entertainment).
Yeah, it’s weird, but it certainly is a solution that we can work with. Essentially what this means is that there will be a defined area in downtown where you can have and consume alcohol in public spaces between certain hours and within a few specific constraints like how big your drink is or what your drink container is made from (the reality is everyone involved really wants to discourage glass and I agree with that).
The proposal runs from Depot Park north to just beyond Bo Diddley Plaza, and then in a limited way west encompassing the 4th Ave Food Park.
First and foremost, nothing changes until Jan. 1, no matter what. That’s important because some media outlets like to report on this issue like every commission vote is carved in stone.
Second, there seems to be support to keep the Streetery permanent. That includes SW 1st Ave, from Main to 2nd St., where on various nights there is live music, dancing, trivia, and craft fairs organized by the various businesses in the area (How Bazaar, Loosey’s, The Bull, and soon, Capones).
There is going to be debate about hours and boundaries, and how these boundaries are demarcated from other areas.
Currently the ACE district is a work in progress, but after some hard looks, it’s a pretty logical idea. City planners and law enforcement are able to define problem areas and exclude them from the ACE area while we, the folks on 1st Avenue and beyond, continue to operate as usual.
This is a new idea, and the model could spread if there is interest. If Midtown wants to have their own ACE district, they can, ostensibly, go ask for it. Same with the Public & General Neighborhood or Duck Pond or Porter’s. The idea is that the ACE district will be clearly defined by a map and each area of town that wants their own district can just drop in a different map as an outline for their specified area and that’s that. The laws, from one ACE to the next will be the same, so it’s easy enough to understand. Will it be that simple? I don’t know and city planning can be murky, but this should be easy enough to replicate, but we’ll see.
What does this all mean? Right now it means that there is another meeting on Oct. 26, and we still need your support for the ACE district(s) in Gainesville. The reality is that this was a step forward for our community. ACE is a real, logical, useable solution for us and many other folks in Gainesville. Is it perfect? No, but it is a step forward. It is important to continue to engage your commissioners and mayor and speak your mind.
Most of the bars and restaurants in the ACE area are not places where getting drunk is a priority, they are place of social drinking and camaraderie. Guests expect a high order of execution and thoughtful ideas, playful menus, and whimsical experiences. Loosey’s still sells plenty of shots of whiskey, but we’ve also started dipping our toes into some really cool cocktails and we even started a new draft cocktail program that we are trying to ramp up in the next few months.
People’s interests and priorities have changed, and the hospitality industry has to embrace those changes and learn to make them work for us and not try to swim upstream, or be stuck in the past. Cities need to help accommodate these changes, especially your local, non-corporate businesses.
Gainesville is a cool town and an interesting place. It seems like every week or less I learn something new about this beautiful place. Sometimes it’s a show or a museum or a new outdoor space that gets saved by Wild Spaces money—either way, there’s always something new to learn about and look forward to, and this is one more way we can make our home just a little bit cooler.
More info can be found at looseys.com.