Matt Bell, executive director of Explore Harrison, has surveyed downtown businesses to see who would like to participate in an entertainment district. He will make a presentation to Harrison City Council members at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12.
An entertainment district would allow adults to walk around the downtown area and shop with alcohol at participating businesses.
“I’ve polled the downtown businesses and have 36 supporters and two that oppose bringing an entertainment district to downtown,” Bell said. “I’ve also conducted a Facebook poll where it was 17 to 1 in favor.”
Bell continued, “I want to bring more of the 21-40 year old population to our downtown square. I think we are doing good getting more of our senior group of citizens. I think if we could get more of those young professionals it would be beneficial to the economy of our town.
“There have been success stories, Little Rock, for example, which allowed businesses to expand into outdoor seating along their sidewalk which allowed them to comply to COVID restrictions when it came to seating capacity and make it worthwhile to open their door. Mt. Home approved theirs about a year ago. They have a microbrewery which is either already in operation or will be soon. It’s successes like this that I think would drive people to our downtown,” Bell said.
“It’s not a party scene,” he said. “The courthouse lawn will be completely off limits. It will not be a time for people to congregate and drink. We want people to socialize and walk around our downtown into the shops that want to participate and stay longer and have a good time while they are here.”
The Hotel Seville would be the farthest point north. Marie’s at the Seville would be a partner in serving beverages. But also the Durand Conference Center would be incorporated into the district so they can accommodate their guests for events.
The district would come down Stephenson Avenue to Kirklands Deli and to the Cake Shop — one block west and east of the square. “The Boone County Library is clearly marked red (off limits) on the map that will be provided.”
If a business is selling alcoholic beverages at their establishment they will have maps to indicate where the visitor can and cannot go. If they walk outside those boundaries they are liable, and could have an open container citation if they go outside of those boundaries.
Bell said participants are really simple. Restaurants, or shopping areas and the Durand Conference Center.
When Bell polled the downtown businesses, there were three options.
• Support and participate
• Support but no need to participate
• Oppose entirely
“My goal is to restrict the time from Monday-Saturday from noon until 10 p.m. Anything after 10 p.m. would encourage a party zone, which is not the idea. It’s simply a walking and shopping district and not a tailgate party. Sunday will be completely closed.”
Containers will be a clear 16-ounce cup with the Explore Harrison logo. The businesses that sell the beverage will have to purchase the cups at their own cost. “These will be the only containers allowed in the district,” he said.
If someone opens their own cooler, they could be sited for an open container. “It’s very strict.”
How will underage drinking be monitored? “Obviously, you trust the business selling the alcohol adheres to the proper age limits when purchasing alcohol. Aside from that, with the clear marked containers, it will be easily noticeable when a minor is consuming a beverage that is purchased in the entertainment business.”
Some communities have had serious problems with entertainment districts. How will Harrison be different?
“We have a great thing going on in our downtown square,” Bell said. “Businesses are working together and coming together. We have good positive energy and an influx of development in our downtown. Our entertainment district is conveniently located within a block of our Harrison Police Department. I think that will lead to a more secure and safe environment in our downtown.”
How will driving drunk be monitored? “Those rules are already in place. Businesses that sell alcohol already have taxi numbers and designated drivers are in place. Drunk driving wouldn’t change. The only difference, instead of staying inside that business where they purchased, we’re giving them the opportunity to go next door and shop.”
Individuals are liable for knowing where they are allowed to go. Participating businesses will have a decal on their window that says Harrison Entertainment District. The current map just notes the places that are not included in the district. The final map will have businesses clearly marked who are not participating.
Was Bell willing to place this out there for a city or county vote? “The bill was written for council only approval. Outside opinions should be addressed with the individual council members in their district. Council members are representatives of those in their ward. Someone who opposes this has the right to go to that council member and express their concerns.”
According to the Family Council in Little Rock, there is no evidence that allowing public drinking will draw tourists. “Communities that try to create an entertainment district by legalizing public drinking upfront, tend to face all the problems associated with an entertainment district — crime, violence, cost to taxpayers, etc., without reaping the benefits of increased tourism.” What did Bell have to say about that?
Bell said, “I, as a tourist, have not ever looked to go visit a place because they have an entertainment district. I have gone to a place and enjoyed walking around their district because they had it,” he said.
“I agree sidewalks and streets are public places, but I don’t see how this would impede an adult or child’s safety or wellbeing. It would be foolish to assume that someone may or may not be carrying around a beverage right now. This will allow someone to walk freely with a clearly marked plastic container and go into a store. There won’t be tailgates down and ‘act a fool’ but they are supposed to be going from one shop to another. That’s the drive here.”
Will this cost our police department more? “I don’t know that answer,” Bell said. “Obviously it would be heavily dependent on how much foot traffic increased, and how many other establishments want to open up because of this. We expect new business growth because of the entertainment district. But I think if we have that foot traffic and increased sales, that would increase the tax base that supports the police departments. It could be a ‘get more money in’ to support area police departments, but I don’t see it adding to their workload.
“I really think our businesses who are selling the alcohol have a grasp on when to cut someone off. I think the people this would attract, for the most part, would be responsible and well behaving adults. Cutting off at 10 p.m. is key,” he said. “It’s not to encourage a party scene, but a social environment.”