Coming up on the one-year mark when House Bill 890 was first introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, New Bern is getting closer to potentially having its own “social district.”
On Wednesday, an information session will be held at the Omega Center, located at 800 Cedar St. beginning at 5:30 p.m. for anyone who would like to learn more about the potential social district. Another session will be held on Monday, April 18 at 2 p.m. at The Chelsea, located at 335 Middle St.
The proposed social district will be for businesses in downtown New Bern and the Greater Five Points area, according to the city’s website. Each meeting is designed to share general information and receive input from the public.
“We are presenting information as it stands at this point in time,” said Lynne Harakal, Swiss Bear Inc.’s executive director. “We are taking the information that we receive and figuring out what types of adjustments will have to be made to the current proposal. It’s been primarily businesses with some residential input that haven’t been completely open public sessions.”
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The basics of a social district include certain times you are allowed to participate in drinking outside of a bar or restaurant in the streets and the type of cup that can be used.
When it comes to what New Bern’s social district could look like, the first draft that will be presented to residents brings forth the name The BERN District. BERN stands for Beverage, Entertainment, Retail, Neighborhood.
The proposed district hours are Noon to 9 p.m., seven days a week within the district’s footprint. The footprint starts at the Neuse River to Hancock and the Trent River to Broad, except for Council Bluffs and Union Point Park. The district boundaries also include Hancock Street to Five Points along with Pollock and Broad Street which brings the addition of the Beermuda Triangle.
Inside the district, rules and regulations are as follows.
Drinks must be consumed from the official BERN cup received at drink purchase and holds no more than 12 or 16 oz.
Visitors may stroll with beverages through the BERN district between noon-9 p.m.
Merchants that allow BERN drinks will have decals on their doors. If a merchant does not have a decal, than the drink must be finished or disposed of before entering the store. Look for the BERN logo on participating merchant doors.
No BERN drink can be carried into another bar or restaurant that serves alcohol.
Swiss Bear Inc., New Bern Area Chamber of Commerce, Craven County Tourism and Development Authority in cooperation with the Downtown Business Council, local businesses, and the city of New Bern are partnering to create the social district.
While this is the current proposal, Harakal added the plan is and always will be a living document, meaning adjustments can be made at any time even if the proposal is approved by the board of aldermen.
The groups are still several months away from presenting a proposal to the board, said Harakal.
Ultimately, a proposal from the groups will be made to the board of aldermen, asking them to approve a social district ordinance in the hopes of increasing and expanding the economic vitality of downtown and Five Points.
While there is an optimistic outlook on an ordinance passing, there are several issues that could stand in the way of it happening.
Could a social district lead to an increase in alcohol consumption, and other related crimes?
The topic of a New Bern social district has been discussed throughout the community with a mostly positive response. There are some concerns from residents that could stand in the way of the city approving an ordinance for a social district.
The idea of social districts in North Carolina came as a result of the pandemic and the need to increase foot traffic for local businesses.
New Bern is no different as the district is expected to encompass dozens of restaurants, bars, and retail establishments within the district’s boundaries downtown.
What it also could potentially bring is more alcohol-related issues such as underage drinking, public drunkenness, and drunk driving. These, along with patrons illegally bringing or consuming alcohol that has not been purchased in the social district, an increase in littering, and conflicting events within the social district are the main concerns of the private groups.
However, these concerns have been vetted, explained Harakal.
For her, there are no indications that a social district would bring unwanted issues that would negatively impact the community.
“The most important part in terms of the sharing of information is to try and clear up any misconceptions there may be,” added Harakal. “We are definitely open to what the public has to say and we will address any concerns needed before any final proposal to the board of aldermen.”
In the city, DWI-related crashes and DWI arrests have decreased in the past five years, according to New Bern Police Department’s 2020 Annual Report.
This decrease in DWI-related crimes also comes during a time when alcohol sales have increased in Craven County.
Instead of the sales coinciding with more patrons drinking, it actually came from the same amount of customers buying more alcohol and higher priced bottles in order to stock up during the pandemic, as previously reported by the Sun Journal.
With most city departments expected to have a say in what the impact of a social district downtown would be, enforcing the law will fall on the back of the New Bern Police Department.
During large annual festivals and downtown events, the department has not received many complaints about alcohol-related criminal behavior other than complaints about littering.
Reporter Trevor Dunnell can be reached by email at [email protected]. Please consider supporting local journalism by signing up for a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Sun Journal: Upcoming information sessions about downtown New Bern social district