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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Gainesville to restrict public drinking

City commission voted to reinstate pre-pandemic open container law after GPD expressed safety concerns

Gainesville residents may no longer be allowed to carry alcoholic beverages on public property.

City Commissioners voted 4-3 Thursday to repeal the open container policy that allowed people to drink and carry alcoholic beverages in public. The ordinance also permitted businesses to serve alcohol in public, outdoor spaces. 

Commissioners first voted to allow open containers in September 2020, permitting struggling businesses to adapt to CDC guidelines and survive the pandemic.

Thursday’s decision, which has not yet gone into effect and will be revisited in coming months, followed Gainesville Police Department’s quarterly briefing highlighting safety concerns after a recent shooting in a downtown parking garage.

Police Chief Lonnie Scott said 48% of national homicide cases involved alcohol and 

Gainesville’s violence crimes have been above the projected trend line since 2020. 

He shared body camera footage of drunken fights in midtown and downtown. The parking garage located at 105 SW 3rd St. has become a haven for large crowds to drink and incite violence, he said. 

Laila Fakhoury, a co-owner of How Bazar, was at the vintage retail store on the first floor of the parking garage when the May 1 shooting happened. 

“As a business owner, we are the ones who are directly affected by the violence,” she said. 

Fakhoury suggested restricting drinking and installing lighting and security cameras in the garage. 

Commissioner Harvey Ward agreed the city needs to discourage violence connected with out-of-city party-goers. However, he added the violence was occurring before the council allowed open containers.

Some public commenters disagreed on the initial purpose of the open container policy. Sharon Burney, 57, said the city allowed public drinking to accommodate football games and game days’ influx of drunk fans.

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After GPD’s presentation, the council voted to restrict the open containers; Mayor Lauren Poe and Commissioners Adrian Hayes-Santos and David Arreola dissented. 

The council also voted 4-3 to allow businesses to request permits to serve alcohol in public areas. Hayes-Santos, Arreola and Chestnut dissented.

Jacob Larson, the owner of The Bull — a downtown bar a block away from the parking garage — said about 85% of his sales come from the outdoor section. Changing that business model would be a big pivot, he said.

“We’ve adjusted a lot of our practice on how we do business based on that ability for the extension of premises,” he said.

Anthony Rue has owned Volta Coffee — located on the first floor of the downtown parking garage — for 14 years. He said violence has progressively worsened since open-containers were permitted.

Every weekend, Rue and other local business owners clean the mess surrounding the parking garage. 

“It was like cleaning up a toxic waste zone,” Rue said. He’s swept firearm shell casings, used condoms, clothing and bloody jewelry outside his business after large parties in the garage.

“You guys are my landlords,” he told the council during public comment. “And you should be looking out after me.”

Gainesville Director of Transportation Malisa McCreedy announced that the southwest parking garage will remain closed 10 p.m. through 5 a.m. Thursday through Sunday nights with increased security patrolling the garage.

Contact Mickenzie Hannon at Follow her on Twitter @MickenzieHannon.

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Mickenzie Hannon

Mickenzie is the local elections reporter and previously covered city and county commission for The Alligator’s Metro Desk. She's a fourth-year journalism major and is specializing in data journalism. When Mickenzie isn’t writing, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, playing with her pets and attending concerts.

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