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With change in state law, Charlottesville discussing open alcohol containers on Downtown Mall

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A change in state law could enable Virginia cities to adopt ordinances allowing open alcohol containers in certain designated areas. For Charlottesville, this could mean allowing alcohol consumption on the Downtown Mall.

In a presentation by the Charlottesville Office of Economic Development during a City Council work session Monday, Jason Ness, business development manager for the city, said adopting an ordinance like this could increase economic growth for local businesses.

The presentation focused on Recovery Roadmap, a city program that is working to help local businesses recover financially from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The way that we are looking at this through our office is how do we take this opportunity to leverage that to help the downtown area and also how to help the entire community,” Ness said.

Ness said he has been meeting with ABC agents and their legal counsel to gain an understanding of all of the regulations and rules that would be needed to have open containers on the mall.

Currently, people can only consume alcohol on the mall while dining at a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol. People are not permitted to consume alcohol while walking along the mall or going into stores.

Ness said customers would be required to purchase a standardized and authorized 16-ounce to-go drink cup from local restaurants in order to drink alcohol on the mall. People would not be able to use their own alcohol containers. Customers could bring these to-go cups with them into participating retailers.

While there are stipulations for comment periods, Chris Engel, director of economic development for the city, said he expects the state law to go into effect July 1, as planned.

“The way it’s structured with city law requires the council to pass an ordinance to allow it to happen, so there’s a bit of an internal process that we would need to work through with all the various stakeholders that would impact — for instance, the mall — and figure out what that process would be,” Engel said.

Councilors Heather Hill, Sena Magill and Lloyd Snook voiced support for the Office of Economic Development to start working on a draft ordinance to allow open containers on the mall. Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Michael Payne said they would like more information.

“We’ve had a lot of concerns about drinking in public, people being drunk in public … that’s one of the things I think we need to resolve as a city,” Walker said.

Ness said he has been working with social services on how this would be enforced.

Walker voiced concern for how an authorized cup policy would be enforced. She said she thinks people who already have ignored the rules against drinking on the mall would not be concerned about following an authorized cup policy.

“That is one thing that I hope we’ve resolved, where just because [people] don’t have that cup that they are unfairly treated in some way, because they are not going to understand that you can only drink from certain establishments,” she said.

Ness agreed with Walker’s concern and said the office is working on a solution for how to handle situations where people are consuming alcohol in an unauthorized container.


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