Friday After 5 first to use new container rules

Friday After 5 will be the first downtown event to take advantage of eased open alcoholic beverage container laws in Owensboro this weekend.

Using the city’s own entertainment destination center liquor license, dubbed “The District,” restaurant, bar or Friday After 5 patrons will be able to carry open alcoholic beverages outside the establishments where they purchased them within four blocks of the Ohio River and nearly a mile along it from J.R. Miller Boulevard to as far west as Poplar Street.

Officials say the Friday After 5 Board decided to use the entire entertainment district, instead of portions of the riverwalk between the Owensboro Convention Center and RiverPark Center, because it wanted to involve many of the establishments that have played a crucial role in its success over the years.

“This is a community affair,” said board Chair Meredith Keller. “We can’t do Friday After 5 without community sponsors and all of the different downtown establishments that participate. Downtown Owensboro is continuing to grow and thrive, so what better way to give back to those businesses that have helped make this be successful than by sharing the Friday After 5 crowd with them? It would be a disservice to them if we didn’t.”

As of close-of-business on Tuesday, nine downtown liquor-license holders had signed agreements with the city to participate in The District, including Burger Theory, Fetta Specialty Pizza, Lure Seafood and Grille, Mellow Mushroom, The Miller House and VFW Post 696 as well as the Owensboro Convention Center, the RiverPark Center and Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Assistant City Manager Lelan Hancock said he expects more establishments to sign participation agreements with the city before and after Friday’s event.

Each of those participating establishments, however, and many others who have not yet signed on, have agreed to at least one self-monitored policy that was not stipulated in the ordinance the Owensboro City Commission passed legalizing event-based open containers downtown in December. While beverages in special “The District” cups will be allowed to leave participating establishments and wander about downtown within the district, those same participating establishments will not accept beverages in those cups into their jurisdiction properties.

For example, Hancock said, between 5 p.m. and midnight Friday, alcoholic beverages purchased inside the Atmos Energy Courtyard at the RiverPark Center can leave the RiverPark Center property line for the first time in Owensboro’s history, but if their owners are taking them to, say, the Party at the Kentucky Legend Pier (which falls within the convention center’s liquor license) they will have to dispose of those cups first before they enter the new premises. It’s a policy liquor-license owners all agreed on because of both the liability associated with unknown beverages and financial interests establishments have in selling their own drinks.

“Basically, they don’t want to have the confusion of knowing who served whom a drink,” Hancock said. “This way, establishments know that, when you come on their premises, they can do their own evaluation of whether they should serve you a drink or not, and they can also determine how many you have had. Patrons will get a new cup anytime they enter a new establishment. For now, The District is set up only as a to-go style situation.”

Still, Hancock said he believes The District could play a vital role in helping market the city’s downtown sector and boost tourism within it. The area is open to establishments, organizations or individuals who are willing to partner with the city as well as downtown liquor-license holders in order to host events that will contribute to their joint success.

“The District adds an attractiveness to our downtown, and it will allow patrons the freedom to get out and discover everything downtown Owensboro has to offer,” he said. “I also want to invite everyone to Friday After 5 this Friday to help us kick off this event.”

At 5 p.m. Friday, participating restaurants, bars or other establishments will be able to give their patrons 16-ounce green cups that feature The District logo and carry the following message: Alcoholic beverages cannot be carried into another business location and must be consumed within the designated boundaries of The District.” Below that will be the web address owensboro.org/thedistrict. Although it’s not yet live, Hancock said it will show a detailed map of The District featuring participating establishments.

Unlike other entertainment destination centers in Kentucky like Newport on the Levee and Fourth Street Live in Louisville, open containers in The District will only be legal during specific, city-sanctioned events. It includes a wide swath of downtown Owensboro but excludes church properties, the Lazy Dayz Playground and Shelton Memorial. Owensboro is among Kentucky’s first cities to establish such licenses under newly relaxed interpretations of state alcoholic beverage control laws.

So many beverages out in public could pose unique challenges to law enforcement, however, and according to Owensboro Police Department Support Services Major Gordon Black, special precautions are being taken.

As always, he said, additional officers will be downtown on Friday in order to monitor and assess activities and both educate and enforce laws within and around The District perimeter. Officers will not be enforcing the policy restricting beverages from entering other jurisdictions, because that is not a specific part of the ordinance and they are leaving it up to individual establishments to enforce it on their own. Otherwise, Black said, a downtown entertainment destination center is new to Owensboro, so a lot about enforcement is still unknown.

“Honestly, we’ve never had anything like this before, so I don’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I know there will be a lot of questions. It’s a learning process for everybody, and we want to be there to help people understand what is and isn’t allowed now.”

Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, [email protected], Twitter: @austinrramsey