Could downtown Raleigh become a social district?

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) – Public drinking with limitations can happen in downtown Raleigh.

Next week, the city’s economic development and innovation committee plans to revisit talks on setting up a social district.

The social district would allow the consumption of alcohol in outdoor public spaces as long as they are within specific boundaries and times.

City leaders have expressed interest in having the pilot program up and running by mid-to-late summer — or at least before fall.

At the committee meeting last month, the Downtown Raleigh Association shared the results of a recent community survey.

Most of these comments were positive, but city staff noted that “business owners and residents have expressed concerns about the social district encouraging bad behavior (overconsumption, disorderly conduct, etc.), problems waste and associated cleanliness, the potential for creating an unsafe environment, and apprehensions about how district boundaries and rules would be enforced.

“We’re not looking for a party crowd. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to add a little more to entice people into what they want to do while they’re there,” council member David Knight said at that May meeting.

Staff were asked to return in June with proposed hours of operation, boundaries focused on the Moore Square and City Market areas, a plan for signage, enforcement and garbage.

Staff were also invited to come back with best practices learned from other cities that already have a social district.

These recommendations will be presented at the June 28 committee meeting.

Greensboro is an example of a city that has a well-established social neighborhood. Its opening hours are from noon to 9 p.m. daily. City staff said in a memo that Greensboro staff noted that standard daily hours kept hours of operation from being too confusing. Ending at 9 p.m. prevents the social district from overlapping with general nightlife, a city memo said.

Other North Carolina cities like Kannapolis, Hickory, and Salisbury also have social neighborhoods. Their hours start between 10am and 11am and end at 11pm or midnight.

Mayor Mary Anne Baldwin says she prefers to see the social district operating Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with Sunday ending no later than 6 p.m.

At last month’s meeting, Baldwin expressed concerns about the impact special events could have on the social district. The way the city rules are written right now, the liquor rules for special events would take precedence over the social district.

State law dictates that alcohol purchased in a social district cannot enter a public space licensed for special events. Likewise, alcohol from a special event cannot enter the social district. Given this, the city wants to focus on using Fayetteville Street as a social district.

“Greensboro has hosted special events since the establishment of its social district and has been successful
using signage to assist with enforcement,” a staff memo said.

City staff will provide the committee with a detailed recommendation for the operation of a social neighborhood.

David H. Henry