21 and over: Discussions begin for an “entertainment district” in downtown Magnolia | Local News

Could downtown Magnolia soon become an entertainment district? If local government discussions are any indicator, a response from Magnolia City Council could be here in the coming months.

During her appearance before city council on Monday, Magnolia’s director of economic development, Ellie Baker, gave her first glimpse of how the historic square could benefit from such a designation. If allowed, downtown customers and restaurateurs of legal age would be allowed to purchase and transport alcoholic beverages within a specified limit, without violating public container laws.

“In short, it allows a licensed restaurant to allow a customer to take their alcoholic beverage – in a cup of a certain size that bears a certain brand – off (the establishment) and potentially to another location in the entertainment district,” says Boulanger. “A lot of towns in Arkansas now have that, and they haven’t really had a problem.”

The Arkansas Legislature passed a law in 2019 that allowed cities to create “entertainment districts” to help boost tourism and local businesses. Since then, entertainment districts have sprung up across the state. Sites range from urban and tourist centers such as Fayetteville, Little Rock and Hot Springs to small towns such as Van Buren and even neighboring El Dorado.

“It’s really a way for people to come to downtown Magnolia and enjoy everything that’s going on,” Baker added. “That could include our Farmer’s Market or our second Thursday market, and people could take their drinks with them.”

The move could also potentially add more business to downtown, according to the city official.

“I spoke with Mountain Home, and they said two new restaurants opened after an entertainment district was added,” she added.

Although open carriage of adult beverages within the district is permitted, items such as bottles, cans, and outside beverages that have not been purchased from specified vendors would not be permitted. There would also likely be restrictions on where customers of legal age could buy drinks.

“It would be very strict,” Baker said. “It’s not something that encourages drinking by any means. It just creates a more inviting atmosphere.

Parameters can also be placed on entertainment districts to help discourage underage purchases and possession of alcohol and to limit drinking hours. In many districts, drinks must be in specially marked cups and sold only through certain vendors. Time constraints can also be imposed on entertainment districts, allowing alcohol to be served only at certain times and on certain days.

According to Baker, his plans call for similar rules, but the final decision rests with the city council.

“This council can put all kinds of stipulations on (the district) they want,” she said.

Temporary permits, according to Baker, could also be authorized for certain cases, such as special events in the square. The Magnolia Blossom Festival currently allows a similar permit, but the area that sells alcohol must be barricaded from the rest of the event. By designating downtown Magnolia as an entertainment district, these restrictions could be lifted.

“It would allow everyone to walk in the neighborhood,” she added.

Since the neighborhood is only in the planning stages and still needs to be approved by city council, Baker said Monday that she doesn’t yet have specific boundaries for the map, but noted that it might be similar to the main Magnolia Blossom festival area. She noted, however, that all parking lots or church properties should be off limits.

“I think it’s just not appropriate,” she said.

She also added that Magnolia’s law enforcement leadership is fine with such a district.

“I spoke to the chief of police…and it has the chief of police’s approval on it,” Baker said. “There’s absolutely no way I want to present this without his approval.”

Police Chief Todd Dew, according to Baker, also suggested some security precautions for the district which could include additional video cameras for the area, as well as increased police presence – at least during the initial phases of the district, and additional signage for the territory and its limits.

“It’s very doable what he’s asking for,” she added. “I appreciate that our police chief understands the value this could bring.”

Signage could also be placed on stores or venues that do not wish to allow customers with drinks into their establishments, according to Baker.

While this week’s address to City Council was only informative in nature, Magnolia government leaders were encouraged to seek out the success of entertainment districts in other cities and arm themselves with knowledge about all the potential rules and procedures for such a district.

“It’s very easy to assume what the rules are, versus what they really are, and what they can do for our downtown,” Baker added.

No one on city council specifically spoke out against the idea of ​​an entertainment district in Magnolia, but Alderman Steve Nipper gave his opinion in favor of the issue.

“I fully support it,” he said. “Hopefully places like The Loft and Magnolia Arts could be included as well.”

David H. Henry