Raleigh plans to allow open containers in a special downtown neighborhood

ByShannon J. Cortes

May 26, 2022

The City of Raleigh may create a “social neighborhood” around Fayetteville Street later this year, allowing people to walk around downtown Raleigh with open containers of wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Raleigh would be the largest city in the state to create a social district since the North Carolina legislature passed legislation allowing it last year. Greensboro launched its own social neighborhood in March, while Durham and Charlotte are planning one.

Raleigh officials hope the creation of a social neighborhood will draw more pedestrians downtown, boosting struggling businesses after the COVID pandemic. The proposed neighborhood would encompass the blocks east and west of Fayetteville Street, as well as Moore Square and City Market.

The idea is that people can take their drinks after dining or leaving a bar, then stroll downtown to shop or head to places like the Raleigh Convention Center or the North Carolina Theater. The Raleigh Memorial Auditorium is also just south of the proposed social district.

“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 at this week’s meeting of Raleigh’s Economic Development and Innovation Committee. “It’s not meant to be that party vibe. It’s more for enjoying the conveniences of the city.

Raleigh officials plan to launch a pilot program in mid-to-late summer to test the idea, get feedback from nearby businesses and residents, and troubleshoot issues before adopting it permanently.

Public consumption would be permitted in the neighborhood on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Hours have yet to be determined, but Melton suggested 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with more limited hours on Sunday to catch the brunch crowd.

Council member David Knight said he had reservations about these hours and would be more comfortable closing the social quarter at 9 or 10 p.m.

“We’re not looking for a party crowd,” Knight said. “We’re just trying to add a little more to entice people into what they want to do.”

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin also raised the question of how the social district would interact with special events like Artsplosure, which must obtain a special permit from the city to sell alcoholic beverages. In these cases, the city could adopt a policy stipulating that special events take precedence over the social district, in other words, that public consumption would be governed by the rules of the permit, not the district.

About 48% of downtown businesses generally favor a social neighborhood, according to a recent survey by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. But a portion, about 20%, would like more information on how the city will enforce limits, manage waste and prevent disorderly behavior before backing the proposal.

Nearby residents share these concerns, wanting more information about law enforcement, trash, and drunken and disorderly behavior. Yet they, too, are generally supportive and interested, said Alliance President Bill King.

Survey respondents preferred Fayetteville Street and City Market as the location for the social district. Residents were split on a social neighborhood in Glenwood South, with 42% saying it would be a suitable location and 31% saying it would not be a suitable location.

Glenwood South has long been a site of public controversy, with some longtime Raleigh residents complaining about noise, litter and drunken misbehavior by clubgoers. Crime has also increased there in recent years, leading to a discussion among city officials about how to reduce it.

Late last year, in an effort to address residents’ concerns, the city council voted to reduce the opening hours of food stalls. It was a move condemned by handcart vendors, who said it would kill their business and do nothing to help clear up foot traffic after 1 a.m.

Regarding the proposed social district, Baldwin said she wanted to be sure to “get it right”, avoiding criticism like the one the council drew in 2015 over pavement drinking restrictions. . Raleigh is much larger than cities that have already created social neighborhoods, she noted.

Melton pushed back, saying he wanted to roll out the pilot program soon while continuing to gather feedback from businesses and residents.

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

Raleigh’s Economic Development and Innovation Committee is expected to vote on a more detailed proposal for a social district pilot program at its next meeting in late June. If approved, it will then move on to the full city council.

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