Kansas lawmakers say ‘cheers’ to outdoor drinking districts

Alcohol (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – If Wichita passes it, you could soon be drinking on the streets of Wichita within a few guidelines.

Kansas legislators have said “cheers” to allowing cities to designate districts where people can move among bars, restaurants and entertainment venues with libations in hand.

The House approved a bill Tuesday on a 97-22 vote. The Senate passed the measure last week, so it goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback for his possible signature. He has not stated a public position.

The goal is to allow cities to create areas similar to the Power and Light District in Kansas City, Missouri, where patrons can move around a common area with their alcoholic drinks.

Some business managers in Wichita say it could be great for business.

“It’s potentially a great idea,” says Lisa Henshall, one of the managers at Delano BBQ Company. “But just getting people down here so they can experience how walkable it is, see how close it is to the river, how close we are to the Keeper of the Plains, we love getting people here to experience it all.”

Henshall says the concept could not only be great for business, it could be great for tourism and special events.

House Bill 2277 says, in part, “A city or a county may establish a {one or more} common consumption area {areas} within the limits of the city or within the unincorporated portion of the county… and authorize the possession and consumption of alcoholic liquor within the common consumption area. The ordinance or resolution shall designate the boundaries of the {any} common consumption area and prescribe the times during which alcoholic liquor may be consumed therein.”

In other words, local governments would set up clearly-marked common consumption areas. Each would need a state permit.

The bill goes on to say, “The ordinance or resolution shall require that any public street or roadway that lies within a common consumption area shall be blocked from motorized traffic during the hours in which alcohol is consumed.”

For Wichita resident Randy Copelen, it’s a great idea, if streets are blocked off.

“I used to live in Memphis,” says Copelen. “On Beale Street they did it. All the time. Memphis does it every weekend, actually they do it all week-long, mainly on weekends. So it is controlled. They have a heavy patrol down there…”

The Wichita Police Department has experience in crowd control when it comes to public consumption. Some years, the Wichita Riverfest has allowed beer gardens to operate. Drinking is allowed only in the area of beer gardens, so the open consumption idea is a bit different because it could encompass a larger area.

But, some business owners maintain, it could be great for business.

“We plan different things to get people to come to Delano,” says Henshall. “I think it’s a wonderful idea … as long as it’s going to be contained, as long as we are able to keep people, the public, safe. But, you go over to London and Europe and you see these events… whole streets blocked off just for Friday nights and it’s a wonderful, wonderful way for them to get the businesses involved, and get people experiencing other businesses instead of just going to one specific place.”

KSN reached out to the Governor’s office to see if it will be signed into law or face a veto. As of publication time, we have not received a response.

KSN also talked to city council members in Wichita to see if Wichita would create a public consumption zone. Two city council members say they are studying the idea and want to become more familiar with the concept before making an official statement.


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