Brainerd one step closer to allowing alcohol in some parks
City Council members will review a proposal for revamped guidelines in April.
BRAINERD — Another lengthy discussion, another step closer to allowing alcohol in Brainerd’s city parks.
City officials discussed the topic for the last few months, debating the idea of allowing certain groups to sell alcohol in Brainerd’s parks and whether consumption should be more widely permitted.
Conversations began at the Parks Board level back in December , with City Council members weighing in along the way. After a joint workshop between the two groups in late February, Jessie Dehn, city engineer/public works director, presented Parks Board members with a newly revised amendment to the city’s code during their meeting Tuesday, March 28.
The proposal took into account officials’ general consensus of wanting to allow alcohol during softball games in Memorial Park and other permitted events, while still limiting the parameters to retain some alcohol-free zones in parks throughout the city.
Right now, alcohol consumption is not allowed in city parks, with the exception of Memorial Park, where city code allows limited on-sale liquor licenses to be granted to professional baseball organizations and concession stand vendors. The consumption of alcohol under that provision is limited to vending structures and seating areas on the premises and only during scheduled adult activities. Spectators and players, however, are not actually allowed to bring their own alcohol into the park for consumption, even though many do so without consequence. City officials noted consumption often takes place at the Lum Park Campground, despite restrictions, as well.
The efforts to amend guidelines reflect a desire from city officials to both reflect what’s already happening in the parks and allow wider consumption and sale, as some groups have expressed interest.
With the city’s newest park — Lyman P. White Park — set to formally open in June with an amphitheater, Parks Board members began discussing the idea of allowing vendors to sell alcohol during concerts and other events.
The proposal Dehn brought forth Tuesday would allow nonprofit organizations — like clubs and charitable or religious groups — that have existed for at least three years to apply for a temporary on-sale liquor license to serve alcohol in connection with a permitted social event in about half of the city’s parks. Those in which sales would still be prohibited are: Bane, Buster, Gustafson, Hitch-Wayne, Meadows, Mississippi River Landing, O’Brien, Trailside and Triangle parks.
The permit for such events would require City Council approval and would be subject to terms set forth by the council, including number of days sales are permitted, areas in which sales could happen and the presence of peace officers to monitor events.
Alcohol sales would not be allowed during organized youth events in any of the parks.
To me, the parks are for the kids and for families, not for more drunks.
The next section of Dehn’s proposal would further allow the consumption of alcohol — on-sale or otherwise — in all parks except for Buster, Gustafson, Hitch-Wayne, Mississippi River Landing, Trailside and Triangle. This provision essentially means visitors could bring their own alcohol into the parks where it’s not prohibited, now officially allowing consumption at Memorial Park softball games, in the Lum Park campground and elsewhere.
“I think this hits the middle ground properly,” Parks Board member Johnathan Miller said. “We want to maybe have a few parks within the system that people can enjoy and be an alcohol-free type of environment, so this does strike that middle ground.”
That middle ground represents a compromise between the desire to allow wider use, as has been requested by some residents and officials, but still maintaining some restrictions, as council member Kara Terry expressed at past meetings her opposition to a blanket allowance for alcohol in all the parks.
The proposal, however, may not satisfy everyone.
Northeast Brainerd resident Wayne Erickson addressed the Parks Board Tuesday asking why alcohol needed to be allowed in the parks at all and questioned whether the city should be promoting its sale and consumption.
“We have enough places to drink without us as leaders in the community saying, ‘We need more alcohol,’” Erickson said. “To me, the parks are for the kids and for families, not for more drunks.”
The city has been fine with regulations the way they are for the last 150 years, Erickson said, so he doesn’t see the need for a change and believes a lot of people are going to be “jumping on the bandwagon” with these new allowances.
Board members noted the city isn’t necessarily promoting alcohol use with these changes but merely clearing up the ordinance to reflect what’s already happening in the parks and adding enforcement measures.
Board member Kevin Yeager mentioned the vision for the new park with its amphitheater and other facilities.
“The impetus for this in a lot of ways, in my mind, is we just built a $3 million park that … has a lot of the design geared towards entertainment,” Yeager said. “So the idea is, we’re trying to get ahead of some of this, as well as we have had groups that have come to us before that want to use alcohol in the parks.”
While Erickson said he still didn’t like the idea, board members debated various tweaks to the proposal during a nearly hour-long discussion Tuesday night.
Ideas mentioned included requiring alcohol sale or consumption to be a certain distance away from playgrounds or the splash pad, allowing consumption only at permitted events where it is sold or putting provisions in just for Memorial Park and the Lum Park Campground.
Board members came to a general consensus about the sales portion of the amendment, and Dehn said he plans to present his proposal to the council in April with a few tweaks.
He will add in a provision to prohibit glass alcohol containers in the parks and eliminate the provision restricting sales to specific areas.
In terms of events like the Brainerd Jaycees Street Fest, where alcohol is sold and consumed in an enclosed space in a downtown parking lot, Dehn said he will look to see if provisions can also be made for consumption to be allowed on public streets for events of that nature.
He also plans to determine the legality of allowing park visitors to bring their own drinks to events where there is alcohol for sale.
After consulting with the city’s legal counsel, Dehn said he will likely bring a formal ordinance amendment before the City Council during the second meeting in April for approval.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .