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Entertainment district would allow council to grant liquor licenses closer to schools, churches

Map of the Prescott Entertainment District. (Courtesy Illustration)

Map of the Prescott Entertainment District. (Courtesy Illustration)

Liquor establishments and schools/churches in the downtown-Prescott area could be allowed to get a little closer soon, if the city moves ahead with a proposed new entertainment district.

Greater flexibility in the liquor-license restrictions would be a “key aspect,” of the new district, say city officials.

Still, they emphasize that the district would come with a number of other benefits as well. Chief of among them, according to City Manager Michael Lamar: The potential for a more cohesive marketing strategy for Prescott’s downtown.

The impacts of the proposed new district were central to a study-session discussion by the Prescott City Council this week. At its Tuesday, July 25 meeting, the council heard a presentation on a newly configured proposal for an entertainment district.

Community Development Director Tom Guice led off the discussion by telling the council, “The real key aspect to creating an entertainment district – the primary purpose – is to set the stage for council to provide exemptions from the 300-foot distance rule for certain types of liquor licenses from a school and/or church.”

Lamar added that an “an unintended positive benefit,” would be the ability to market the downtown area as the Prescott Entertainment District. “It gives some cohesion to your downtown that maybe makes marketing easier and also opens up some opportunities for things you couldn’t do in the existing zoning category,” he said.

While an earlier version of the district went to the council about a year ago, the proposed boundaries had been expanded in recent months. The city’s preliminary map shows the district taking in about one-half-square-mile of the downtown – running roughly from Alarcon to Summit, and from Granite Creek Park to Aubrey.

Council members were mostly supportive of the concept, but several downtown bar owners questioned the objective of the district – especially the move to allow more flexibility on liquor licenses.

Susan Roberts, the new owner of the Jersey Lilly Saloon, for instance, voiced concerns about allowing bars in closer proximity to schools.

“I moved to this city to raise my kids here,” Roberts said. “Now we’re putting bars, we’re putting shootouts, right outside our schools? I’m not sure that’s a good example.”

City Attorney Jon Paladini responded that the district would not grant a “blanket approval” for exemption of the 300-foot buffer between liquor establishments and schools and churches. “It’s still a case-by-case (consideration),” he said.

Lamar added that the city had received no objections from local schools or churches.

Dave Michelson, owner of The Palace Restaurant and Saloon, also questioned the district’s objectives. “With all due respect, you can call this whatever you want,” Michelson told the council. “But the only area this is going to affect is the 200 block of South Montezuma.”

But Joe Lohmeier, who owns Far From Folsom, which is located on the 200 block (214 S. Montezuma), maintained that the district would benefit the downtown in general. He cited entertainment-district success examples in Tucson; Austin, Texas; and Greenville, South Carolina.

“I think the city of Prescott needs to decide, do we want to continue growth, evolution of a downtown district?” Lohmeier said, adding, “I think (the district) opens up a lot of open space entertainment opportunities for the City of Prescott.”

The council also heard from Kendal Jaspers, director of the Prescott Downtown Partnership, who suggested that the entertainment district represents an opportunity for the downtown area, and said “I’d hate to see it go somewhere other than downtown.”

Indeed, Paladini told the council that the state statute that allows for entertainment districts limits a community to just one such district, and limits the size to one square mile.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Lamerson pointed out that, at about one-half-square-mile, the proposed district has room to grow. “We still have 50 percent and can reconfigure at some point,” he said.

Paladini explained that the entertainment district statute dates back to the late 1990s/early 2000s, when the state legislature was faced with repeated attempts to do away with the 300-foot buffer between schools/churches and liquor establishments. The entertainment district option was created as a compromise, he said.

Council members appeared to be in consensus agreement on moving forward with the process, as well with expanding the boundary slightly to the north to take in the creek greenways.

The matter is expected to go back to the council for continued discussion in August.

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