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City Council votes down Entertainment District

by Bradly Gill | January 13, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

The long-awaited ordinance which would have established an entertainment district, and relaxed open container laws, in Camden was voted down 5-3 at Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

Impassioned pleas from both opponents and advocates for the ordinance were heard during audience participation.

Ed Winters, a concerned citizen stated, "I have prayed so hard to understand the reason for this ordinance, this entertainment district. I can not understand why we want to entertain or introduce alcohol to any activity in the downtown area, where children are involved."

Winters also questioned the wisdom of holding a city council meeting with Ouachita County's recent uptick in COVID cases.

Jerry Ables, pastor at Victory Church, said, "I'm not here tonight to oppose alcohol or the drinking of alcohol or adult pleasures or anything the hardworking people would want to put their money in, because as American adults we can chose our own path; but I'm here tonight to ask you 'Why?', our dear council. Why would we legalize drinking in the same street at the same time that we would invite children to come and play?"

Mark Suhar, more commonly known by his professional name, DJ Doc Bryce, noted that the campaign against the entertainment district, which primarily took the form of Facebook videos decrying public drinking, used the same tactics as a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock.

Suhar stated, "The inspiration of the opposing views of any entertainment district is from the 'Citizen's Toolkit' by The Family Council of Little Rock -- an outside entity deciding what is best for Camden. The Family Council has used entertainment districts from outside areas like Beale and Bourbon streets to show worst case scenarios like public (intoxication), drunk driving, underage drinking, disorderly conduct, offensive odors and unsightly litter and sometimes violence and homicide."

Suhar then noted Mountain Home, the first city in Arkansas to pass an entertainment district ordinance, was thriving, with new businesses and restaurants opening in the downtown area there.

Emily Jordan-Robertson, owner of PostMasters Grill noted that public intoxication was forbidden and the ordinance would not change the legality of such behavior. She also urged people to not be afraid of change and said that the ordinance would probably not affect her sales much, but would be a great boon to other local businesses like Native Dog Brewery.

Alderman L.E. Lindsey made a motion to amend the hours of the Entertainment District from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the logic that it would benefit food trucks. The amendment failed 5 to 3, with Aldermen Terry Smith, Chris Aregood, Marvin Moore, William McCoy and Joe Askew voting it down and James Bell, Lindsey and Cecil McDonald voting in the affirmative.

During discussion of the ordinance, Alderman Moore said, "I just think it's a bad move right now, not only with COVID, but we can't drink ourselves to prosperity. We have to have a sound mind and sound body... I heard one pastor say 'Nothing good came out of drinking.' I'm not against entertainment; I'm against drinking overly."

Moore also stated, "Alcohol will change your mind about anything; it empowers you, and you'll say and do things you wouldn't normally do."

Moore also registered concern about open carry policies and mixing alcohol with firearms.

The ordinance was ultimately voted down 5-3 with Smith, Aregood, Moore, McCoy and Askew voting no and Bell, Lindsey and McDonald voting in favor.

The ordinance was first introduced in 2019 before it was withdrawn by Bell to make adjustments to the size and scope of the district. A scaled-back version was reintroduced in 2021, with reduced hours and limiting the number of days the entertainment district could be active.

In other business:

• Ordinance No. 14-21, an ordinance replacing Ordinance No. 30-17 assessing on certain property located at 432 and 438 Union Street SW passed unanimously. The ordinance will bill the property owner for cleanup at the sites.

• Resolution No. 01-22, a resolution recognizing Meeting and Procedures as set forth in the Code of Ordinances of the City of Camden, and adopting other procedural rules passed unanimously. The resolution established parliamentary procedures for the council.

• Resolution No. 02-22, a resolution to state the primary intended uses of a portion of the first tranche of the city's allotment on local fiscal recovery funds through the American Rescue Plan Act; and for other purposes was tabled due to more funds being made available in the near future and Mayor Julian Lott recommending that the Council wait until all funds are in to decide what to do with the monies.

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