Fargo moves ahead with law to allow downtown drinking at events
FARGO — With very few complaints or policing problems, the Fargo City Commission took another step Monday, Dec. 3, to make a temporary law allowing open alcohol containers on downtown sidewalks and streets during special events permanent.
The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Tony Gehrig voting against the first reading of the proposal.
Fargo City Auditor Steve Sprague told the commission that it was a "very positive" reaction to the four events where alcohol was available -- the Downtown Street Fair, two Cork and Canvas events and at the Winterfest downtown event held in conjunction with the holiday lights parade.
Downtown Community Partnership CEO Melissa Rademacher said the street fair was the first and biggest event with more than 100,000 visitors. There were five liquor vendors at the event, with extra police and task force members helping to control the sale and borders of the downtown where visitors were allowed to consume alcohol on the sidewalks and streets in a specially marked cup with a wristband.
She said the goal was to keep the event family friendly, as it always has been, and that liquor sales were just a small part of it.
At the Cork and Canvas events, on Aug. 9 and Oct. 11, a smaller downtown area was used where 21 businesses participated with wine being the liquor that was allowed between the establishments. All participants had maps to show where they could walk with glasses of wine.
At the Nov. 30 Winterfest held along with the holiday lights parade , three liquor and three food vendors offered in a half-block area beer or a hot toddy along with the food and s'mores.
Fargo Police Lt. Chris Helmick told the council that calls were also down during the street fair this year, compared to last year, with the new open container experiment. He said there were no citations for open containers at the event. On an average Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, he said there are usually about three or four open container citations in the summer.
He said there were no problems reported with the other three events.
Only one additional officer was hired for the street fair because of the consuming in public law. Helmick called it a success with planning ahead of time, public education and the Downtown Community Partnership paying for the extra officer.
Gehrig said he was in favor of the concept of allowing the drinking at the events, but the way the ordinance was written was that it was only for downtown. He said he would like to see it expanded to allow public drinking at some other events such as in south Fargo.
"I'm going to vote no, because I want it to be more expansive," he said.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said he felt the success was due to a responsible party — the Downtown Community Partnership — controlling the event.
"I think there was concern from the downtown community about what would happen if we started having this every weekend," he said.
He said perhaps other groups would start putting pressure on to have their events allow such public drinking on the streets.
Despite those concerns, Piepkorn joined commissioners John Strand and Tony Grindberg, along with Mayor Tim Mahoney, in moving the measure ahead.