Jim McGuffey remembers the sometimes wary early reactions.
“It was like when greenways first became popular in Huntsville. Some folks who shared a common border with them were, at the beginning, opposed to them. ‘We’re going to have terrible people in our backyards, criminals and drunks.’ I heard all those complaints. Now it’s, ‘Please put a greenway in my backyard. Please build another.’”
Those sort of initial concerns greeted the advent of the Arts & Entertainment Districts, designated geographical areas with loosened alcohol restrictions for short periods during the week, weekend or for special events.
“When the State of Alabama gave us a chance to have Arts & Entertainment Districts, people were concerned about public drunkenness and ‘Mardi Gras’ type behavior,” says McGuffey, the Manager of Planning Services for the City of Huntsville. “Quite frankly, we haven’t see that happen. We haven’t had any problems with any events.”
Huntsville’s A&E Districts
A fourth Arts & Entertainment District was approved by the City Council on Feb. 23. The S.R. Butler Green district will encompass the current Campus No. 805 complex and stretches east toward downtown to include the Salty Nut brewery and several adjacent areas. It includes only those buildings east of Campus 805 that face Clinton Ave.
The State of Alabama permits a municipality to have five such legally designated districts. The others in Huntsville are:
Quigley District, which encompasses the heart of downtown Huntsville, including courthouse square, Big Spring Park, Von Braun Center, Huntsville Museum of Art and surrounding restaurants and bars. Its namesake is E.P. Quigley, a surveyor who created a street map of Huntsville 115 years ago.
Meridian District, around Meridian Street and Cleveland Avenue, essentially the Lumberyard area.
Providence District, along Providence Main Street.
How they work
State laws allow a maximum 160 acres per district; only the Quigley District approaches that size.
The districts can have off-limits properties within that district – i.e., public parking garages downtown, the courthouse itself – and establishments within the district are not required to participate.
At its essence, Arts & Entertainment designation allows patrons to purchase an alcoholic beverage, served in a purple cup, from a participating establishment or at a public event and leave the premises of the establishment with the beverage. The patron is permitted open-container privilege within the boundaries of the district, but may not bring a drink from one establishment into another.
Those privileges are allowed only during designated hours, with flexibility permitted for special events.
The district boundaries are clearly marked with blue paint and arrows on sidewalks.
City officials meet with the stakeholders involved in the program to assure they are well-informed of the regulations and willing to abide by them.
“Everybody seems to be doing it right,” McGuffey says. “We’ve had very little problem with policing and enforcement in these districts.”
McGuffey says the feedback from establishments and residents in the areas has been almost universally positive. In fact, as new growth continues, he is frequently approached by those wanting to be included.
“Specifically in downtown where we have these boundaries, we have developers building mixed-use properties and they first thing they ask is if they’re in the (Quigley) district, and if they’re not, how can they get in,” McGuffey says. “It’s a selling point for their properties. It’s like having a swimming pool.”
“We talk a lot about quality of life in Huntsville, to make this city attractive to young professionals,” says Mayor Tommy Battle. “To do that, you have to have fun things to offer. You can have the jobs available, but you have to provide entertainment so folks want to move here and stay here.”
“It’s an awesome opportunity for the citizens, a resource that helps everyone’s quality of life,” McGuffey says.
Just as all those greenways have done.