Social district seen as economic boost for downtown – Washington Daily News

Tonight, if you were to buy an alcoholic beverage at one of the establishments in downtown Washington and then walk to another establishment while drinking said beverage, you would spend the rest of your evening with police officers discussing an open container violation.

The Washington City Charter explicitly states that it is “unlawful for prohibits anyone from consuming or possessing in an open containerall alcoholic malt beverages and unfortified wine on public streets, highways, alleys, sidewalks, city-owned or city-controlled recreational properties without city permission, public parking lots, parking lots private property or land without the permission of the owner or possessor, or in vehicles on such property.

A social district could, however, amend this ordinance. A social neighborhood is a well-defined setting in which people can purchase an alcoholic beverage in an establishment and drink outdoors on city streets and areas around the downtown area. Customers would drink from specific plastic cups that would have a social neighborhood logo and the logo of the establishment where their drink originated. They could drink outside without consequence as well as drink and shop at participating retail stores.

Meg Howdy, executive director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance, says social neighborhoods aren’t about alcohol, but rather have the potential to boost the downtown economy. The idea is that by relaxing ordinances on public consumption, it will encourage people to spend more time in downtown stores and restaurants; therefore, more stores and restaurants would stay open later, creating nightlife in Washington.

“Really, it’s not about the alcohol. It’s about economics,” Howdy said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught local business owners new ways to adapt and support each other. She said, for example, that a person could buy a beer at a brewery and then buy takeout at a restaurant and eat near the waterfront docks or buy a drink and then shop in the one of the stores.

“This will allow us to leverage the economic value of reviewing the [Harbor] District as a whole so people want to come in, buy and move around,” Howdy said.

The social district would start on Thursday and run all weekend from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. to include brunch on Sunday. The parameters of a possible downtown social district have yet to be determined as a decision whether or not to include the waterfront docks has yet to be made. That decision is in the hands of the members of the Washington City Council. They will listen to a presentation by Howdy at their regular meeting on Monday, August 15, but will not vote. Howdy said he has received support from some members, but others are hesitant.

To residents who are concerned about the risks of setting up a social neighborhood, Howdy says establishment owners will receive training from an Alcohol Enforcement Officer (ALE) on how to serve customers safely and maintain their permits. (ALE is a division of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.) This training is scheduled for this month.

Moreover, Washington is not the first city to add a social district to its downtown area. Several other North Carolina cities have already added social neighborhoods; Greensboro, Kannapolis and Monroe and more, including cities in other states where it’s called an entertainment district. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law last year that allowed cities to add social neighborhoods if they wanted.

Howdy said Washington can learn from other cities about how to run a social neighborhood, especially when there are downtown community events like festivals. She would like a social district to be set up in time for the upcoming holiday season.