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by J. Brooks Terry
Staff Writer

Across the state, alcohol sales at bars and restaurants stop at 2 a.m. It’s been that way for nearly a decade, but now some say that extending those hours in downtown Jacksonville may be the next step towards making it a 24-hour destination.
Offered by City Council member Suzanne Jenkins, legislation that would establish an entertainment zone with a 4 a.m. alcohol sales cutoff time will be introduced at this evening’s Council meeting.

The proposed zone would span from the U.S. 95 off-ramp near the Osborn Center, up Bay Street to A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and out to 1st Street. Portions of the Southbank would also be included though the exact dimensions have not yet been made public.

“If we want a 24-hour downtown, this is the kind of thing that we are going to have to be prepared to look at,” Jenkins said. “If this area is going to have any kind of entertainment value, it has to have the hours to support it.
“It’s crazy that people have to drive out to the suburbs to do something.”
Jenkins said the zone would only amend alcohol sales hours, not adult entertainment or open container violations.

“Why should we wait to do something like this? Downtown is picking up momentum and we should be capitalizing on that while we can,” she said. “Right now if you come here to catch a play or a show at the Arena, there’s really nowhere to go when it’s over.”
Restaurants aren’t going to stay open without being able to sell alcohol, she said.
“Why would they? There isn’t an opportunity to make any money without alcohol sales,” Jenkins said.

A big supporter of those plans is Jacksonville Landing owner Toney Sleiman. He said downtown’s economy could benefit in a major way if the entertainment zone came to fruition.
“My kids are in their 20s so I hear it all the time: ‘There is nothing to do in Jacksonville,’” Sleiman said. “We owe it to ourselves to create something, especially downtown, so that we can keep the young people here. If we can draw them in, the money will follow.

“I think it’s fantastic idea and we should at least look at it to see if it can work. Jacksonville is not a small town anymore. People need to get their heads out of the sand and realize that.”

Sleiman added that with those extended hours, more business owners would see the benefit of opening night spots downtown.
“Of course they would,” he said. “You know, we talk about offering incentives all the time and this would just be an extension of that practice. The only difference is that this won’t cost the City anything and I guarantee we’ll see a return on our investment.”

Downtown advocate Michael Munz said he supported forming an entertainment zone and that the necessary community endorsement is there.
“I’ve discussed (extending alcohol sales) with a lot of the area stakeholders and everyone seems be receptive of the idea,” he said. “It may not directly translate into a lot of dollars being made, but it does prove that the area is progressing. It shows that it’s moving towards being a much more vibrant part of Jacksonville.”
The entertainment zone legislation won’t come up for a vote before the full Council for at least a month while it endures Council committee scrutiny. Jenkins said she is prepared to defend its merits and that she expects a high level of scrutiny.
“It has the potential to be very controversial, but I don’t think it has to be that way,” she said. “It makes sense to create opportunities downtown that you can’t get anywhere else. We need to let it happen.”
 

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It's good to see Jacksonville taking small steps toward having a vibrant downtown. Besides the big towers and all the cool proposals, it's small things like this that make the difference..
 

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It could easliy make a huge difference. If you give the nightlife venues an edge of the suburban ones, more buisness will move in. Once there is more to do then the poeple will follow. I love the idea immensly, however, there are a strong few that may ruin it.
 

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So, did it pass??
 
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