LDDA Open Container Review

Document sent to the Mayor and City Commission ahead of the Policy Review Meeting on Open Containers in Downtown.  FULL DOC PDF

In preparation for your policy meeting about changes to the open container ordinance in Downtown Lakeland, please consider the following information in your discussion.

 

The LDDA Board of Directors, as representatives of the Downtown Businesses and Property Owners, voted to oppose an open container ordinance allowing the consumption of alcohol on city property in Downtown (but for special events with permits and proper licensing.)

 

The specific reasons for the opposition are as follows:

 

  1. The City of Lakeland does not have sufficient police presence in Downtown Lakeland to address the externalities that would come with this open container policy. With such an ordinance would have to come quantity limits of carried containers, container monitoring (i.e. special cup or at least disposable cup), and time restrictions. All of these “rules” would need enforcement and consequences for violations imposed by LPD.
  2. The City does not have adequate cleaning frequency and scope to address the expected increase in trash and human waste caused by allowing open container. Big Bellies replaced open-air trash containers several years ago with much success. However, the number of receptacles was drastically reduced. Today, we sometimes find bottles and cups left on curbs, windowsills, in alleys, etc. Allowing open container invites more opportunity for trash to be disposed of improperly. More over, human waste could increase –particularly vomit – as patrons continue to drink and walk in public and private spaces away from the bars/restaurants. Downtown’s office and retail storefronts closest to bars are already occasionally confronted with waste on their property associated with a sick bar patron from the night before. The business owner is left to deal with the clean up. This could potentially increase in number and area, as patrons are allowed to walk several city blocks while drinking.
  3. The City does not currently protect the businesses from liability associated with the potential risks of an open container ordinance. Businesses are concerned about their exposure to liability if a patron were to, for example, get struck by a car crossing the street with cup in hand or one that gets into a car with the go cup and causes an accident. Much like the City requires businesses to indemnify, defend, release and hold harmless the City its officers, agents, etc. from and against all claims, damages, losses costs and fees, etc. for placing an A frame sign on the sidewalk, businesses would require protection in the cases where a patron gets injured or causes damage because of over consumption – particularly if the source of the alcohol can not be determined.
  4. Open container could give Homeless/others a free pass to drink openly on the sidewalks and in Munn Park. Allowing this practice in Downtown and nowhere else in the city will be an additional incentive to hang out in Downtown. Time of day restrictions for drinking would need a constant police presence for enforcement.
  5. Allowing open container puts every event in Downtown at risk. First Friday, for example, brings thousands of people to Downtown Lakeland over a 3-hour period. This family -friendly event does not want open container and could not afford the police presence required.

 

 

After polling the business and property owners via email, restaurants, bars, office users, and commercial property owners alike were opposed to the concept for the reasons stated above. One property owner replied favorably to the idea.

 

More importantly, the businesses that the city commission would expect to participate in the open container policy – bars and restaurants – are overwhelmingly opposed.

 

In addition to the above reasons, the bars and restaurants are opposed for the following additional reasons:

 

  1. They do not want customers entering their establishments with alcohol from another bar/restaurant or alcohol brought from home. This means they’d have to have extra staff at points of entry and sidewalk cafes. Additional staffing cost for security does not help the bottom line. It is also not helpful to put the businesses is a position to police customers as they walk in.
  2. They are concerned about customers drinking on the sidewalks and in parking lots with alcohol they brought from home, thus hurting sales. Again, unless there is tremendous police presence to enforce a rule of “only alcohol served by premise licensees allowed on the sidewalks”, this practice will happen. We know this because we already see evidence of it today. Allowing open container would most certainly increase this behavior. Where else in the city could folks gather and openly drink in public?
  3. All of the businesses would have to participate exactly the same way or the public would be confused and angry. If some of the businesses allow outside alcohol (from a neighboring business) to be brought in and others don’t, the public would have to learn these rules and exceptions and then remember them after having perhaps several cocktails. We can’t get stone cold sober people to understand the simple 2-hour parking rule in Downtown. An open container policy with time restrictions, cup restrictions, quantity restrictions and a boundary would require constant education and re-education of the ordinance rules and that education process would unfairly fall on the business owners and their staff. The businesses would be left to deal with upset and perhaps belligerent patrons who don’t know all of the rules and policies.

 

 

 

 

OTHER CITIES AS EXAMPLES

 

Other cities such as New Orleans, Savannah and Key West (all high tourist destinations) are cited as examples of successful open container policies. Here’s a closer look at each:

 

KEY WEST: Key West does not have an open container policy. A common misperception is that open containers of alcohol are permitted in Key West city limits. While in fact, the opposite is true. The Key West Municipal Code, § 18-87 prohibits open containers of alcoholic beverages in public. However, ordinance 18-87 subsection (d) dictates that there shall be one verbal or written warning for any first time offender of this section, provided that compliance is achieved. Second or subsequent violations are subject to arrest as a misdemeanor ordinance violation. Because of high tourist numbers and second violations are unlikely, so, in general, police tend to “look the other way”.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS: Louisiana in general, has always had very lenient liquor laws compared to the rest of the country. However, in 1986, the state complied with federal law and raised its minimum drinking age from 18 to 21. But when the Louisiana legislature attempted to stiffen penalties against alcohol vendors who sell to minors, the Louisiana Supreme Court moved to reverse its decision. By a 4-3 verdict in 1996, the high court overturned both the penalties and the minimum drinking age itself, saying that the law unconstitutionally discriminated against young people. The decision made Louisiana the only state in the nation with a drinking age under 21.

 

Current law states you must be 21 to purchase alcohol in Louisiana, but you can enter a bar at age 18. If you are the parent or legal guardian of an 18 to 20 year old, you can buy alcohol for them in a bar or restaurant.

 

The attitude and relationship to alcohol in the state and particularly New Orleans is part of the culture. For example, drive-thru daiquiri shops are as common as drive-thru fast food businesses in New Orleans and surrounding suburbs. They bypass the no drinking and driving law by not inserting the straw through the plastic lid on your Styrofoam cup. What you do when you drive away is your business.

 

SAVANNAH: The legislation in Savannah simply permits patrons and partygoers to carry open drinks as long as those concoctions are held in plastic cups, 16oz or less and must remain in the parameters of the historic district.

Quote from a Savannah visitor on Trip Advisor:

“We got a super sized cup with lid and straw at a fast food place at the drive in. Great to have. We could make drinks in our rooms and go all over town with out having to pay for another drink for a LONG time.”

 

WHAT ABOUT TAMPA’S RIVERWALK?

 

You may point out that Tampa’s Riverwalk is open container. But please take the time to study the Tampa open container ordinance. (attached) It has rules – a special cup, specific hours, a limit on the number one can carry at any given moment, and alcohol must be purchased from a premise licensee. Is Lakeland prepared to employ the resources needed to enforce these types of rules?

 

What is also striking in the Riverwalk example is the number of businesses, the types of businesses and the physical space of the open container area. Only 8 businesses are listed as vendors. They consist of hotels, art/history/performing arts/convention centers and two full service restaurants. None are bars. The open container area is not a portion of the urban core shared by offices and retail uses like banks and architects and gift shops. It is very much a “walk along the river” with limited business storefronts.

 

I spoke at length to State of Florida Alcohol and Tobacco employees in both the enforcement and licensing departments. State of Florida liquor licenses (4COP, 2COP, SFS) forbid restaurants and bars to allow customers to enter with alcohol or leave with alcohol.

 

How did Tampa do it?

 

Tampa created a “specialty center,” a designation authorized by the Legislature, where there would be an exemption to the city’s general ban on drinking in public in a specific geographical area. It appears that by creating the “specialty center” overlay, the businesses within the footprint of the “specialty center” were exempt from the restrictions outlined above.

 

The city of Lakeland could create a “specialty center”, but the businesses would still have to want participate. That is unlikely unless all 7 of the concerns delineated above are adequately addressed.

 

BOTTOM LINE

 

What are the resources you are willing to commit – Police, Public Works, Public Relations, Risk Management?

For special events with alcohol the city requires on average one police officer for every 100 patrons. Currently on a weekend night, Downtown Lakeland enjoys, conservatively, about 1500+ visitors. With an open container rule essentially creating a “special event” type atmosphere in Downtown streets one could expect those numbers to increase. That means, by the City’s own numbers, 15-25 officers would be required to patrol Downtown adequately.

With more people comes more trash. That is fine as long as it is addressed. Added trash cans, street clean ups, an increase in pressure washing frequency, and a plan for looking for and cleaning up human waste on public AND private property each day would be a necessity.

Allowing open container would most certainly come with rules and restrictions. The city would be responsible for continuously educating the public on the rules through various forms of paid and unpaid media.

How the city would protect businesses from those who violate the ordinance and bring alcohol from home, over consume in public spaces and cause damage or injury to property or others is unclear and requires risk management expertise to determine the best path forward.

Tampa Riverwalk Ordinance PDF