Raleigh plans public drinking district to bring people back downtown

Raleigh leaders are looking for new ways to bring people back downtown.

Could a “social district” be one-way?

The idea is to allow people to buy an adult drink from a restaurant or bar and drink it while walking to their next stop.

Social districts would have set days and hours of operation and geographical boundaries. The Raleigh City Council is considering the Fayetteville Street area for a pilot program that could begin in late summer.

“It’s people on a Saturday, just kind of a walk and [who] grab a drink and stop by a participating store and shop,” Council Member Jonathan Melton said. “It’s not meant to be that party vibe; it’s more to enjoy the conveniences of the city.

Majority “interested and united”

Recently authorized by state law, social neighborhoods have sprung up in cities such as Greensboro, Kannapolis and Monroe. Charlotte and Durham are also considering where potential social neighborhoods could go.

Businesses or buildings can refuse to allow people to bring drinks into their establishments, and drinks must be purchased from a participating business in a designated branded cup to prevent people from bringing their own drinks, at home or outside the district.

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance made a presentation with the survey results at the City Council’s Economic Development and Innovation Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Of 734 responses, 74% of business owners, office workers and downtown residents supported or generally supported the creation of a social neighborhood, said Bill King, president of the alliance.

“A fairly large majority is usually interested and supportive,” he said.

But some hesitated as the neighborhood got closer to their front door.

“I want to call a nuance here,” King said. “When we started our feedback sessions to talk to residents about their specific building in the neighborhood, that’s when you’ve usually seen people move a bit towards ‘I’d like to know more’. So that’s important as engagement continues on this.

The main concerns are potential bad behavior, waste, law enforcement and general logistics, according to the survey.

The alliance showed different potential boundaries for the neighborhood, all including Fayetteville Street in the center going to McDowell, Morgan, South, Person and Blount streets. While some interviewees expressed interest in a social neighborhood in South Glenwoodthe board committee was not interested.

Some examples have extended the boundary in and around the Warehouse District, which could include people attending a concert at the Red Hat Amphitheater.

Extending the borders to the Warehouse District, at least in the pilot, could distract from planned areas, Melton said.

“I know that one of the intentions of this legislation was to help economic recovery in areas that still need it,” he said. “And the reason we initially identified Fayetteville Street is because Fayetteville Street, it seems, really needs a little shock because of COVID. And quite frankly, even before COVID.

‘Make the right choices’

The council committee did not make a decision on Tuesday but could vote at the end of June. Then it would go to the full city council for a vote.

The alliance is always seeking feedback through its annual survey, and city staff members will also provide information to the council committee on the Greensboro neighborhood.

“First of all, having lived in ‘Drunktown,’ I know there’s probably some skepticism about it,” Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “And, again, this is a pilot program. And I think if all goes well, we will build support.

‘drunk town’ is the infamous full-page ad that featured a nauseous-looking man leaning on a lamppost. The ad attacked Baldwin and others during the 2015 Raleigh City Council election over sidewalk drinking restrictions.

“We don’t want a repeat of the ‘Drunktown’ kind of problem,” Melton said. “But you can also talk in circles at some point. So I want to get to a point where we have good feedback. This is a pilot, which is a way to gather feedback and then get one up and running. Because I mean Greensboro already does.

“I like leading on issues,” he said. “And so I certainly don’t want Durham and Charlotte getting ahead of us.”

Baldwin agreed but said cities that have already created a social district are smaller than Raleigh.

“If it takes another month, I’d rather get it right,” she said. “Instead of just jumping up there.”

Downtown Raleigh Alliance Presentation on Social Neighborhoods by Anna Johnson on Scribd