Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
A longtime discussion on whether to allow alcohol in Fayetteville parks will soon come to a vote at City Hall.
City Council members are scheduled to take up the question at their next regular meeting on Jan. 2.
While the issue has been a topic of discussion within the Parks and Recreation Department for years, recent attention stems from a request from the organizers of the Homegrown Music Festival.
The family-friendly, sustainability-focused event, which launched in 2016 at Byrd’s Campground on the Mulberry River near Cass, featured headliners Leftover Salmon and The Wood Brothers. The festival also included over a dozen other bands, along with kids activities, hiking and biking, and food vendors. The event returned to the river in 2017, but may find a new home at the Kessler Mountain Regional Park in south Fayetteville in 2018.
Homegrown organizer Jeremy Gunn said the plan is for a three-day music, art and sports event to be held across the entire park from June 22-24, 2018. The festival will be free to attend, but entry fees would likely be required for any of the planned competitive events, including mountain bike races, trail runs, disc golf tournaments, etc.
About four bands would play on stage at the park each day, and art galleries would be set up to showcase the work of local artists, Gunn said. Food vendors, kids games and other family-oriented activities would be scattered throughout the park.
The event would hinge upon being able to include alcohol, though.
“Alcohol is something that we want to have there because that’s what our patrons want,” said Gunn. “They want to be able to have the option to drink.”
As it stands, alcoholic beverages are prohibited in city parks with the exception of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, which is frequently leased for special events and weddings.
City staff had originally suggested the council consider a one-time waiver for the Homegrown Festival. An updated proposal, however, would allow the mayor to issue temporary permits for the possession, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in city parks during special events.
2017 Homegrown Music Festival / Photo: Asherlee Marshall Photography
Parks staff have received several requests from event organizers to allow beer gardens and other areas for the consumption of alcohol inside the city-owned parks. Even participants at events, including the city’s Race Series, have asked why alcohol isn’t allowed in some way.
“The overall experience for the participant can be enhanced with the addition of alcoholic beverages for many events held in city parks,” stated John Crow, recreation superintendent, in a memo to the mayor and council. “Staff has also recognized that the sale, possession, or consumption of alcoholic beverages is vital to the success of certain special events. Revenue impacts can be significant through sponsorships and sales.”
Crow said staff have examined other cities’ policies regarding alcohol in public places.
Little Rock, he said, allows alcoholic beverages in public parks except for those where youth sports are taking place. North Little Rock allows alcohol in park if approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission on a case-by-case basis. In Fort Smith, the police chief can issue a permit to allow alcohol in specifically named parks for certain events.
Boulder, Colorado and Boise, Idaho have similar policies, Crow said, in that they name specific parks that can have alcoholic beverages permitted during special events. Lawrence, Kansas, he said, allows alcoholic beverages in city parks during events approved by the Parks and Recreation Department.
Connie Edmonston, Fayetteville’s director of parks and recreation, said any permitted event would still be subject to state laws which require the outdoor sale and consumption of alcohol to be in areas clearly defined by fences, walls or barriers with signs at the exits stating “No Alcoholic Beverages Beyond This Point.”
That rule, Edmonston said, is key when considering alcohol in Fayetteville’s parks.
“It’s very imporatant to us that we do not infringe upon…people who don’t want children around (alcohol),” Edmonston told members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in a Dec. 13 special meeting.
Crow said applicants seeking an alcohol permit in Fayetteville parks will be required to adhere to a strict set of rules, including compliance with existing city and state laws, and other conditions necessary to ensure public safety and the protection of city property.
“City staff will require a comprehensive risk management plan from those requesting a permit that will include a security plan, a safety plan, and an identification process that will ensure only those legally allowed to consume alcoholic beverages do so at their event,” Crow stated. “Any special event requesting the possession, sale or consumptions of alcoholic beverages in the park will also be required to complete the City-wide Event Permit, ensuring that the police, fire and transportation departments will review the application with the Mayor’s office as the final approver.”
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board voted unanimously in favor of recommending the proposal. It’s now up to the City Council to make the final decision.