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Colorado Springs leaders consider special district to let alcoholic drinks be carried outside

May 8, 2017 Updated: May 9, 2017 at 5:17 pm
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FILE - Lauren Salazar of New Belgium Brewing Co. Brewer from Ft. Collins slow pours ale for a growing line of beer drinkers during the Craft Lager Beer Festival inside Soda Springs Park in Manitou Springs on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2005. (Gazette file photo)

Summertime concert revelers in Greeley occasionally can carry their drinks out of a downtown bar and onto a street where a band is playing, and some Colorado Springs leaders want to allow the same thing here.

The City Council is toying with the idea of creating an entertainment district - a chunk of land where the city can bend state liquor laws and let people openly carry alcohol.

Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said she proposed the idea during the council's work session Monday to help the Ivywild School and improve downtown's atmosphere.

Ivywild patrons can't carry their beers down the former school's main hallway, due to its hodgepodge of liquor licenses. Entertainment districts can change that while also allowing people to carry their drinks onto downtown streets in certain instances.

"The city is just creating a pro-business and business-friendly environment for these activities to occur," Gaebler said.

The concept got a cool reception from four councilmen, though, after police Lt. Mike Lux voiced concerns about such districts leading to more public urination, panhandling, underage drinking and noise.

Lux also said the city might need to hire six officers and a supervisor to police such a district, but that likely wouldn't be necessary if it only applied to special events.

Councilman Don Knight lampooned the idea.

"I think we're asking for more trouble," Knight said. "This is overkill to be able to solve that small problem" at Ivywild.

Entertainment districts, created by a 2011 state law, are rare and heavily regulated. Once a city creates a district, businesses within it can band together and use those special liquor rules.

Cripple Creek leaders, for example, created a district to allow 24-hour liquor sales at several of its casinos, though the drinks must remain indoors.

Greeley's City Council allowed 10 bars and restaurants to coordinate a weekly downtown concert series and other special festivals. Patrons there can carry their drinks onto the street during events when the street is blocked off. State law mandates they carry their drinks in specially colored, 16-ounce plastic cups.

Greeley's district members pay a combined $3,000 weekly tab for security and other expenses, said Alison Hamling, of the Greeley Downtown Development Authority. She called the move "fantastic."

"It was really set up as an economic development driver, and it has definitely paid off in that sense," she said. "It definitely created the buzz it was intended to create."

Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership's leader framed the idea as a boost for many businesses during special events.

President and CEO Susan Edmondson lamented that out-of-town beer trucks set up beer gardens on the street for outdoor concerts, siphoning money away from local bars.

"It goes back to: Do we want local businesses to have an opportunity to play a part in something that they can perhaps provide the beverages for, as opposed to a chain?" Edmondson said.

City staffers plan to draft a proposed resolution or ordinance that, with council approval, would declare the city a place where such districts can be created, while setting a few basic guidelines.

Setting a specific district's boundaries requires a second council vote.

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