Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. plans to explore the idea of asking City Council to establish a “social district” downtown.
A social district would allow people to buy an alcoholic beverage from a business in the district and consume it anywhere outdoors within the boundaries of the district.
The creation of social districts was part of a larger alcohol reform bill that recently passed the General Assembly with large majorities and was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper.
The new law also allows people to order and pay online for products sold at state ABC stores for pickup. State distillers and wineries are also now allowed, following the law’s passage, to sell their product at festivals and other events. Distillers are also given more flexibility in their hours to sell their product for on-premise consumption.
The ECDI board unanimously voted to have Executive Director Deborah Malenfant explore the possibility of developing a social district and bring the proposal to city officials. Any such district would have to be approved by City Council and the state ABC Commission.
“It’s super exciting that we have this opportunity,” Malenfant said. “People have been talking about it for years: ‘Why can’t we have a beverage and walk down to the waterfront?’ It will definitely have some positive implications.’’
If the city were to create a social district it would have to follow several strict guidelines. The district would have to be clearly marked with signs and establishments would provide a maximum 16-ounce cup that has the words “Drink Responsibly — Be 21” with the logo of the business and the social district.
A person would not be allowed to purchase a drink at one establishment and bring it into another establishment within the district.
“If it is purchased at Ghost Harbor it would have to have the Ghost Harbor name on it,” Malenfant said. “It can’t be in a glass container.”
The social district could not operate outside permitted times for alcohol sales in the city and it could be shorter, Malenfant said.
Malenfant told ECDI board members that Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, currently have similar social districts.
“It’s a defined outdoor area where a person could consume alcoholic beverages that are sold by a (ABC) permittee,” Malenfant said. “You can carry it with you as you move around.’’
Malenfant said it may be smarter to designate a couple downtown blocks as a social district instead of all of downtown.
“If you do it too big, that is a lot of entry points downtown,” Malenfant said. “We could do something as simple as designating Pailin’s Alley as a social district.”
One board member said the downtown area is a welcoming place for families and expressed a desire that any social district also be family friendly.
Malenfant acknowledged that there are “pros and cons” to creating a social district and said discussions will be held with downtown business owners and residents, city and county officials and law enforcement.
“We are not rushing in requesting that council do this,” Malenfant said. “We are acknowledging that this is there and we will do our due diligence. We are going to have a lot of conversations with our local law enforcement agencies.”
The new law also allows distillers and wineries to set up their own vendor booths at festivals, farmer’s markets and other similar events to sell their product or offer tastings. Prior to the new legislation, a winery or distiller had to be within a designated area for alcohol consumption at an event.
“Previously, if a winery wanted to come to the Potato Festival, they couldn’t taste out their wine if they were outside our beer garden area, nor could they sell it,” Malenfant said. “They just can’t come down and do it, they have to be invited by the festival. The organizers of the festival also have to have their appropriate permits.”