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December 18, 2014

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Joe Downtown:

Have a beer and hit the teeter-totter? Metro officer doesn’t want Container Park bars so close to upcoming play area

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The future is now: The shipping container park is scheduled to dock Downtown in 2013.

Officer John Schutt Jr. called it a "perfect storm." For mayhem.

Schutt, who works with Metro's Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws program, loves how the east Fremont Street area has been redeveloped.

"I want to see it keep growing," he said Tuesday. "When I moved here 14 years ago, no one wanted to walk down it, even in the day. I love how it's revitalized. It's safer. I want to make sure we keep it that way."

But he sees a storm coming by way of the growth of so many taverns in the area, which is drawing more underage drinkers and, as evidenced by a massive police presence on the street two weekends ago, more problems.

Armed with those concerns and a map showing a correlation between violence, property crimes and high-density liquor outlets, Schutt made a case to the city's Recommending Committee Tuesday to change a bill relating to downtown's soon-to-open Container Park.

"The highest areas of crime are where the most alcohol-retail areas are located," Schutt told the committee, which examines and makes recommendations on bills before they reach the full City Council.

The Container Park park is a series of insulated cubes, some stacked up to three stories, on half a block at 7th and Fremont streets. Scheduled for completion this fall, the park will eventually hold between 30 and 38 businesses, including four restaurant/bars.

The committee examined a bill to amend a city ordinance relating to tavern licenses for outdoor entertainment complexes. If approved, it will allow Container Park operators to apply for liquor licensure.

Schutt's contention wasn't with licensing. His concern is with the closeness of four bar/restaurants with the park's centerpiece, a large children's play area. He also doesn't like the idea that people can will be able to carry drinks from the bar to some of the other businesses within the Container Park.

Representing the Container Park, attorney Jennifer Roberts noted that no one with drinks would be allowed in the play area. In addition, access to the Container Park will be through entries that are monitored. She also said that the city could put strict conditions on the park when it applies for a liquor license; Tuesday's meeting was just a step toward allowing the park to make that application.

Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward includes the park, seemed satisfied with the idea that strict conditions could be added later.

He added that nothing in the arguments against the ordinance amendment seemed new to him.

"I've heard all these before in relation to other applications of alcohol, no matter where it is," he said, then acknowledged that teens will find ways to obtain alcohol, just like he did when he was underage, some 50 years ago.

"The point is, it happened then, it happened 100 years before that and 100 before that in some other places," Coffin said. "Are are we just (hearing) the same objections?"

After Councilman Ricki Barlow pointed out that city doesn't allow drinking establishments within a certain distance of parks, Coffin countered that the Container Park is "different, that means new. That means: Are we willing to accept change, are we willing to accept increasing our level of sophistication as we are on the (East Fremont Street corridor)?"

Councilman Barlow, however, was adamant in his opposition to the Container Park being given the chance to obtain a license so long as that children's area remained in its plans.

"We have beer and wine or liquor applications that come before the council where it has to be 1,200 feet from a park, child care facility or school," he asked. "And now in this ordinance that's before us, we have a park in the middle of a campus that's requesting liquor? Help me understand that, because I see the two colliding."

As for the argument that the Container Park's play area is private, not public, Barlow said: "At the end of the day, they're still our children. They're going from the public into a private setting."

When it came time to vote, Barlow reiterated that the children's area "should be removed and replaced with something more adult."

He then gave some historical perspective to the growth of the Fremont East Entertainment District. With creative ordinances, the city fostered the growth of taverns on East Fremont, he added.

"But (never) in that history, since I've been working for the city, have we ever had a conversation that relates to children being in this corridor. Period."

Barlow voted "no," but Coffin and Councilman Stavros Anthony voted to recommend the amended ordinance to the City Council, which will consider it in two weeks.

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