At the May 8 Colorado Springs City Council work session, Councilor Jill Gaebler introduced her colleagues to the concept of business-created entertainment districts. Such districts, authorized by the state General Assembly in 2011, can be created to allow alcohol to be consumed in “common consumption areas” bordered by existing licensees.
The process is relatively simple. First, the city must pass an enabling ordinance allowing for the creation of defined entertainment districts. Such districts are then created by council resolution and defined by “promotional associations” of licensed establishments bordering a proposed “common consumption area.”
Such areas are for consumption only, not sales. Any alcohol consumed therein must be purchased at one of the licensed establishments that are part of the promotional associations.
Although the state law has been in effect for six years, only a handful of cities have authorized entertainment districts, including Black Hawk, Glendale, Leadville, Crested Butte, Snowmass Village and Greeley.
As part of an attempt to revive the city’s fading downtown, the Greeley City Council approved the Ninth Street Entertainment District in 2012. Now supported by 10 bars in the District’s promotional association, the Ninth Street Plaza is closed off every summer Friday night from 6-9 p.m. for “Friday Fest.” Different bands play every weekend, drawing thousands of people to downtown.
According to a 2015 story in the Greeley Tribune, the event disproportionately benefits bars and restaurants within the district. Once the bands stop playing, attendees stay in the district, to the detriment of downtown establishments not located within the district.
Yet for members of the promotional association, the event has been an outstanding success. The association pays approximately $3,000 a week for security and cleanup, and alcohol sales are monitored through “Go Cups,” branded containers that patrons use to carry their drinks in the common consumption area.
After Gaebler introduced the concept, Colorado Springs Police Lt. Mike Lux warned that a downtown district might create disorder and affect public safety. Citing concerns about underage drinking, panhandling and noise, Lux said a year-round entertainment district might not enhance downtown’s mixed-use environment, in which banks, upscale retailers and loft residents are closely adjacent to bars and nightclubs.
“This is not about closing off streets,” said Gaebler. “I don’t think anybody downtown wants to do that. But you could have an entertainment district along Tejon Street sidewalks, say from Red Gravy north to Pikes Peak and maybe down to the Mining Exchange. This is not about crazy drunken street parties — this is about empowering businesses to offer their customers a better experience.”
Councilor Bill Murray said closing streets may not be a bad idea.
“No one is driving down Tejon at 2 a.m. In Europe, they have steel posts that they just screw in to street-level mounts, and close off the street. If people could spill out of the bars onto the streets, it might reduce conflict [as the bars close],” he said.
“This is not about crazy drunken street parties — this is about empowering businesses to offer their customers a better experience.”
— Jill Gaebler
And although the Downtown Partnership has endorsed the entertainment district concept, it’s clear from the organization’s 2017 State of Downtown report that the area may not need the economic shot in the arm that Greeley required in 2012.
According to the Downtown Partnership’s 2017 State of Downtown report, downtown hosted 1,002 arts, cultural and special events during 2016. Other economic and performance indicators confirm that downtown is booming, not declining.
“Downtown Colorado Springs is capturing notice nationwide as an urban area on the move,” according to the report, “attracting new residents and commerce, guided by business and civic leadership aligned in our vision for a world-class city center.”
“We’re open to exploring the entertainment district concept for special events,” said Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson. “It could be a way for our locally owned brick-and-mortar businesses to provide beverages at festivals, instead of some commercial beer truck parked right in front of their entrance reaping all the profits. I don’t see the district operating on a daily or every-weekend basis.”
An entertainment district might benefit the Ivywild School development, though. At present, several license holders must abide by state laws that forbid customers to carry drinks from one establishment to another, even though they’re all connected by a common hallway inside the renovated elementary school.
“I think that it may be more appropriate for contained spaces,” said Council President Richard Skorman. “Ivywild for example, or Lincoln School. I don’t know about Tejon Street.”