DSI exploring creation of social district for downtown alcohol consumption

Published 12:08 am Sunday, January 9, 2022

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Downtown Salisbury, Inc. will host a number of public input sessions this month about a proposed downtown social district for public alcohol consumption before bringing it to City Council.

A social district would allow consumers to purchase alcohol from state-licensed businesses and restaurants and walk around the designated district with specially marked cups. The ability for municipalities to implement such a district comes from legislation passed in the General Assembly during last year’s legislative session, House Bill 890. Sen. Carl Ford, a Republican representing District 33, was the only lawmaker representing Rowan County to vote against the legislation.

Kannapolis was among the first North Carolina cities to take advantage of the new law. The city began allowing consumers to take alcoholic beverages outside of participating businesses and restaurants in October after council authorization. Kannapolis’ district includes portions of West Avenue, Oak Avenue, Vance Street, Laureate Way, Cannon Baller Way, West B Street and Main Street.

DSI Director Sada Stewart Troutman said people are looking to Salisbury as a place to visit, shop and eat in addition to a place to live and work.

“It’s an opportunity to make Salisbury a destination downtown,” she said. “I think this provides the opportunity for people to come enjoy a whole Saturday or a whole weekend in Salisbury where they can enjoy multiple shops, stay overnight, walk around, enjoy the park while they’re enjoying some wine — rather than coming for a single store and then driving back home or coming for a single restaurant and then driving back home.”

DSI Board of Directors member Samantha Haspel told the Post the organization began talking about the idea before the new state law and even considered visiting Raleigh to advocate for it. In October, after its passage, City Attorney Graham Corriher told council members about legal caveats of the social district and said the city and DSI were exploring how to implement one in Salisbury.

“We believe with what’s happening in downtown Salisbury between the park, the Empire (Hotel) and many other things, that this is a real opportunity to drive economic vitality, to increase tourism,” Haspel told the Post. “It also makes it easier for DSI to host downtown events like art walks and things like that without having to go through all the same permitting that previously has been required.”

Haspel said the district can encourage more businesses to open and expand operations with this opportunity, adding that it’s also a way to “keep everyone in business if things get bad again” with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Haspel led the charge to form the Downtown Salisbury Social District Task Force, a subcommittee of DSI. Members include Haspel, Stewart Troutman, Salisbury Wine Shop owner Bob Potter, Pottery 101 owner Cheryl Goins, Rowan Chamber of Commerce President Elaine Spalding, DSI Board Chair and La Cava owner Gianni Moscardini, Skinny Wheels Bike Shop owner Eric Phillips and Megan Canavan, a former assistant city manager for Powell, Ohio.

Canvan helped the city of Powell implement a social district about a year and a half ago.

Haspel and Stewart Troutman said they anticipate members of the community will have questions and concerns. That’s why DSI is hosting five public engagement sessions throughout January before bringing the proposal before City Council in February.

Before its quarterly stakeholder meeting on Jan. 26, which will take place in person and virtually at City Hall at 8:30 a.m., DSI will host a “bars and restaurants” session on Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. at New Sarum Brewing on North Lee Street. Following that meeting is a “merchants, arts and culture groups” session at 5 p.m. at 215 Depot St. under the concourse.

The following are scheduled community engagement sessions:

• Friday at 8:30 a.m., virtual. Use link us02web.zoom.us/j/88327750435 to tune in.

• Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 11:30 a.m., in person at 130 S. Main St., the former Wells Fargo bank building.

• Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m., in person at Mean Mug Coffee on North Main Street.

• Thursday, Jan. 20 at 5:30 p.m., virtual. Use link us02web.zoom.us/j/82999892045 to tune in.

Stewart Troutman said task force members have talked with other communities that implemented social districts, with no real concerns of an uptick in criminality.

“We want to assuage fears that this could invite raucous behavior,” Stewart Troutman said. “This (law) comes with very stringent requirements to make this a safe environment.”

State legislation allowing the social district includes some requirements for establishing it, including a map, days and hours for alcohol consumption throughout the district, signage indicating its location and a management and maintenance plan.

Additionally, special cups with the logo of the special district, name of business or restaurant that provided the alcohol and a statement discouraging underage drinking are required. The cups couldn’t exceed 16 ounces of alcohol and patrons couldn’t enter a new participating business with alcohol still in the cup. Drinks must be disposed before leaving the district.

“This is not meant to be Mardi Gras in downtown Salisbury,” Haspel said. “That is not what we imagine this will look like. It is not what it looks like in Kannapolis.”

Days and hours for the district have not yet been established, but Haspel and Stewart Troutman say a number of merchants have suggested beginning earlier than the evening so they can participate. While DSI will propose including the entirety of the Municipal Services District — the area officially designated as being downtown — members of the City Council can choose to scale back and start small. If so, Haspel said DSI has some other proposals.

The Municipal Services District includes areas along North Jackson, East Cemetery, West Horah and North Long streets, along with parts of South Main, South Church, East Kerr, East Council and North Lee streets.

Other cities in North Carolina that have established social districts include Hickory, Greensboro and Norwood. Others, such as Wilmington and Charlotte, are exploring the idea as well.

“No laws are changing,” Haspel said. “The only difference is where you can stand when you’re having that drink.”

For more information, visit downtownsalisburync.com/socialdistrict/ or call 704-637-7814.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.