Ryan Poe, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
A proposal to allow open alcohol containers across the Downtown business district drew the wrath Thursday of restaurateurs, residents and the clergy.
The proposed Memphis City Council ordinance sponsored by member Martavius Jones would allow open containers in public in an area bordered by the Mississippi River to the west, Danny Thomas Boulevard to the east, A.W. Willis to the north and Crump Boulevard to the south. Currently, Beale Street is the city’s only open-container zone.
The ordinance, whose wording is still in flux, could bring the “vibrancy” of New Orleans’ French Quarter to Downtown Memphis, said Jones, who had the idea after he and three other council members took a taxpayer-funded trip to Bourbon Street last year.
“I just think we can have more life, more vibrancy Downtown, more businesses flourishing, more restaurants and more things to do,” Jones said.
But the ordinance was widely and sharply criticized during a public meeting Thursday afternoon, the first of two meetings on the idea. Perhaps the biggest hurdle was raised by Memphis Police Department Maj. Chris Moffat, who said he doesn’t have the officers to patrol an expanded open-container zone. The number of officers in Downtown has been halved as the city has struggled with a shortage of police officers, he added.
Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, exhorted Jones in a public meeting in One Commerce Square in Downtown not to “lead the sheep astray” by promoting an ordinance that will allow more people to get “dog drunk,” like he said happens on nearby Beale.
“This ordinance is diametrically opposed to families and wholesome activity,” Gaines said, one of three pastors who warned against the dangers of alcohol at the meeting.
“The number one struggle we face as Downtown business owners is that Downtown is safe,” he said to widespread applause. “The question we never get is, where can I get a cocktail?”
“Main Street is our front door,” she said. “I don’t think anyone wants drinking night and day in their front yard, and that’s what this is.”
Of the 40 or so people present, only Wayne Tabor, president of the Metropolitan Memphis Hotel and Lodging Association, spoke semi-favorably of the ordinance.
After the event, Jones acknowledged that the crowd has largely been against him, but said he’s also received favorable comments via email. And in a survey of its members, the Downtown Memphis Commission found that nearly half of respondents were favorable.
“This could very well be the vocal minority,” Jones said.