The Bossier City Council voted 4-2 to defeat a proposed city ordinance that would have allowed open containers in a designated area that included the new East Bank District, the Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets and Margaritaville Resort and Casino.
District 5 councilman Tommy Harvey previously voted in favor of the ordinance but voted no to defeat the measure on the final reading on Dec. 5. He said he originally voted to advance the measure because he wanted to gather more public opinion before the final vote to pass or defeat the ordinance.
“It wasn’t ready to be voted down,” Harvey said. “It needed time to percolate and get some feedback from the public.”
Harvey said that in the time between the original ordinance being presented and the vote that defeated the measure he received calls, emails and message urging him to vote no.
“It was not a personal vote. It was a vote for the people I represent,” he said. “They made it extremely clear that they asked me to vote no. I got more feedback than I received during the Walmart debate.”
Jerry Dean, pastor of the Pentecostals of Bossier, was one of those who spoke out against the measure.
“Solomon said money answers all things,” he said. “I understand that, and it drives a lot ofour decisions. As a pastor here in this city, I’m going to appeal to the council. Let’s not make a money decision today, and see if maybe God might favor us.”
John Good, the developer who build the Boardwalk, said he thought allowing open containers at the Boardwalk would disrupt the atmosphere that was originally intended for the property.
“Boardwalk was never designed to be a place where alcohol would be the main ingredient,” he said. “If we allow this open container to become a part of the Boardwalk and in this multi-million dollar facility you have built downtown, it’s going to raise many more problems than it’s going to bring good.”
Bill McFadden, the current general manager, countered that the Boardwalk need to reinvent itself to survive in today’s more challenging retail environment, where online sales have had a negative impact on brick-and-mortar stores. He added that alcohol has been present at the Boardwalk since its opening through the restaurants there.
“Reality is that high-content alcohol has been present at the Boardwalk since virtually day one,” McFadden said. “That has functioned without significant issue throughout the entire history of the Boardwalk. It always has been a family environment. It will continue to be a family environment.”
McFadden said the open-container ordinance would give customers a reason to stay longer and also would help recruit new businesses, particularly restaurant, to the Boardwalk.
One local restaurant owner, David Alvis of Silver Star Smokehouse, expressed his support for the Boardwalk but that an open-container law would make investing at the Boardwalk more appealing.
“When I think about the Boardwalk, I think about it being one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever visited,” he said. “But the few times I go down there it’s like a ghost town. I know that the city has a great investment. I have a real interest in investing and doing what I do in the Boardwalk. There’s a great possibility we would be involved. But we have no interest whatsoever as it currently is, because there’s just not much going on down there.”
Robbie Gatti cited the Red River District in downtown Shreveport as an example in voicing disapproval of the ordinance.
“As a military officer, when we study things we look for similarities,” he said. “I think we have unique situation here that we can look directly across the river and see if this is a victorious thing to have in our city. We know for a fact that there is no victory in a downtown that looks like downtown Shreveport. We don’t go to downtown Shreveport because of the open drinking. So now we are going to bring this to Bossier, and we are having this discussion after we built it. I wonder what this discussion would look like if we had done it at the design phase of this. Would we have really been behind it if we had known it was going to transition into liquor?”
City Attorney Jimmy Hall said after the meeting that public opinion played a key role in the outcome.
“The ultimate deal is that when the public gets involved, sometimes it has an effect on the outcome,” he said.
When the original ordinance was introduced, Harvey was concerned about safety and policing an area the size of the designated district. One of the revisions that he suggested was staring with a smaller open-container district with the ability to expand the district in the future. That suggestion was not included in the revised ordinance that ultimately was defeated on Dec. 5.But Harvey added that the issue is not over.
“Right now the ordinance is turned down, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dead issue,” he said. “We spent almost $15 million to redevelop downtown. We’ve got to come up with something or it’s going to be for nothing.”
By Scott Anderson