FORT SMITH — City directors are trying to make sure the entertainment districts are enforced effectively to ensure the continued success of community events like the recent pub crawl and the coming Steel Horse Rally.
Fort Smith has three entertainment districts: the Downtown Historic District, the Chaffee Crossing Entertainment District and The Hub Entertainment District.
The directors passed an ordinance in January clarifying certain cups and/or wristbands must be used at entertainment district events when serving alcohol people can take with them to other businesses or public areas. This led some directors to question how this is enforced and what the penalties are if an individual or business doesn’t comply with the ordinance.
According to city code, a person convicted of violating the entertainment district regulations shall be fined no more than $1,000 for a first offense, no more than $2,000 for a second offense and no more than $4,000 for each subsequent offense.
City Prosecutor Sam Terry explained Tuesday there are varying fines in the city for different offenses. A typical fine in this case would be $100 plus $65 in court costs depending on the circumstances for either a business or individual who violates the code, he said.
Police Department Capt. Anthony Parkinson said the department hasn’t received any official complaints to investigate a violation of the entertainment district ordinance.
Kevin Settle, an at-large director, asked if a business didn’t follow the ordinance for a whole event, whether that would be a violation per person in attendance or one violation overall.
“Just trying to understand the logic, because what I don’t want is somebody who thinks they can get away with a $1,000 fine, $65 of court costs, and they just have a random, out-of-pocket entertainment district and they mess it up for everyone else,” he said.
Terry said the city could take it to that degree, but he would count it as one charge. He noted a business would also see penalties from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.
Settle questioned who would be in violation if a business is doing everything right, but an individual took off their wristband or left the entertainment district area with an alcoholic beverage.
Terry agreed it would be a violation on the individual.
George Catsavis, Ward 4 director, asked if the enforcement of the ordinance is complaint driven, or if the city has police officers stationed during entertainment district events.
“There are occasions where it’s a city-sanctioned event,” Parkinson said. “You have officers that are downtown in the entertainment district, or if it’s out at Chaffee Crossing there are officers out there. So if they observe a violation, then they can go ahead and take action and cite someone for violating the city ordinance.”
“There would be no physical judgment in something like that, unless there was some other type of violation like being drunk in public, public intoxication, disorderly conduct or something to that effect,” he added.
Settle asked if there is a point where businesses can have their license revoked for violating the ordinance a number of times.
City Administrator Carl Geffken said that has happened with a bar on 10th Street. The Police Department worked with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division and recommended the revocation, he said.
“Then they appealed to me, and based on the information, I upheld the revocation,” Geffken said. “So that is the process if it gets to that point, the recommendation can be made and their business license can be revoked.”
The Bakery District is in Fort Smith’s Downtown Historic District.
Sam Hanna, property manager for KMW Properties, which owns the Bakery District, said he doesn’t see many people using the entertainment district there despite having a bar that sells the appropriate cups. He said he hasn’t had any complaints about violating the entertainment district regulations.
“I’m glad we have it, but I think it’s difficult to inform people and educate people about it and where its boundaries are and what exactly you can do,” Hanna said. “It’s kind of a difficult thing to get that information out to patrons.”
“I think it’s a really good thing for the downtown area,” he added. “I understand Chaffee has one too. I think it’s great for them. It’s really good for the city. But as far as I can tell, we haven’t really seen a great benefit from it yet, which might be a good thing. I don’t know if you want too many people walking around drinking cups in the streets. But so far, so good.”
“We’ve got three entertainment districts in the city, and I want them all to thrive. I don’t want one business causing everybody else’s business a problem,” Settle said.