Council nixes downtown Friday Fest over alcohol anxieties

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Vendors of various goods will bring their wares to market at the June 7 Friday Fest.

Tiny dancers will freely frisk at the first Friday Fest June 7 in Pattee Park.

The Perry City Council voted four to one Monday against giving its blessing to a downtown Friday Fest that would have allowed attendees the option to bring their own beverages as they do when the Friday Fests are staged in Pattee Park.

The request came from the Perry Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the family-friendly music events. In recent years, a policy of BYOB — Bring Your Own Beer and Bring Your Own Basket — permitted concert goers to consume beer and wine in the park amid the numerous food vendors and children’s activities in an atmosphere of casual conviviality.

With unanimous support from the downtown merchants, the Chamber asked to bring the event to Josh Davis Memorial Plaza this year, with a plan to close off the one block of Second Street between Willis Avenue and Warford Street and foster the same festival atmosphere that prevails in Pattee Park.

Perry Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynsi Pasutti said “allowing attendees to bring their own canned beer would eliminate the need for a separate, fenced-off area for alcohol sales,” which was the arrangement at downtown Friday Fests in the past.

Perry City Council member Dean Berkland opened the discussion by noting the lawful orderliness that regularly prevails at the festive Fridays.

“At the Friday Fests at the park, I’ve never seen people get out of hand with their drinking and stuff,” Berkland said. “I think it’s pretty calm, so it might be worth a try downtown.”

Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson said drunkenness has “really never been an issue” at the events. “The focus isn’t the alcohol,” he said. “It’s definitely more so the band and sitting with friends and then the activities for kids. So it’s definitely not the primary activity that goes on at a Friday Fest.”

Peterson said the practice in prior years, when the bands played downtown, of concentrating all alcohol in a “fenced-off beer garden” or similar zone of drinks “made it feel like a little jail there in the middle of the street. So hopefully this will be a little more fun atmosphere.”

He compared the Chamber’s proposal to events commonly seen at many metro food-and-music festivals or at the Des Moines Farmers Market, where people find “more of a festival atmosphere, where you can just freely walk around and visit with people,” Peterson said.

The council members posed a number of questions about ground rules for a downtown event and expressed concerns to both Pasutti and Perry Police Department Chief Eric Vaughn.

“They’ll be able to sit anywhere along the businesses, too, and drink, won’t they?” said Perry City Council member Vicki Klein. “I mean, if they come with their own beer and stuff, they can set their chairs up anywhere, right? You do have businesses there. I can see a little problem with that.”

Pasutti and Peterson assured the council the idea for a downtown Friday Fest came from the businesses themselves.

“As far as the businesses go,” Peterson said, “this was kind of brought up at the merchants’ meeting, which is the downtown retailers, so it’s something they’re excited about and want to see happen.”

Speaking for the downtown merchants, none of whom attended Monday night’s council meeting, Pasutti said, “We’re thinking of doing Friday Fests and other activities downtown to see how this is going to work.”

The council’s attention turned to Vaughn and questions of controlling and containing the open containers.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge for the police department,” said council member Dr. Randy McCaulley. “I really do. I can see some people abusing it.”

Vaughn said the idea of a BYOB event “is kind of new.” In Pattee Park, he said, the crowd is somewhat isolated, but “bringing alcohol into a street area” would pose some safety and liability issues and might require additional patrol duties for the police department.

“I have some concerns about controlling that a little bit more and the alcohol moving off there and the open container and that type of thing,” he said. “I’d like to do a little bit more research before I just rubber stamp it and look at a couple of the codes to make sure everything’s okay.”

Along with practical problems of crowd control, questions about the fundamental purpose of the event were raised.

“My question really is a philosophical one,” said McCaulley. “You talk about wanting to have more of a family atmosphere, and I don’t necessarily equate that with alcohol, in my opinion. They’re two separate endeavors if you’re really concerned about your family, in my opinion. I know that’s pretty conservative, but I have a hard time equating family atmosphere with drinking.”

Pasutti said preserving the low-key, stress-free climate of the Friday Fests was the Chamber’s goal, and that might be most easily achieved in Pattee Park in light of the council’s qualms.

“We wanted to do the family-friendly atmosphere more so than just having it downtown,” she said, “so if we don’t have the BYOB designation, we’ll be doing it at Pattee Park.”

The council agreed they needed more time to consider the bold proposal and to await Vaughn’s verdict. With only 18 days until the event and the next council meeting scheduled for June 3, the Chamber would be left with little time to advertise the event.

In the roll-call, Perry City Council member Barb Wolling cast the lone yes vote. Council members Chuck Schott, Berkland, Klein and McCaulley voted no. Perry Mayor John Andorf told Pasutti he believed the council might be open to the idea of a BYOB event in the future, after the council has considered the question more closely.

The June 7 Friday Fest will feature the South of Society band in Pattee Park. The second 2019 Friday Fest is scheduled for Aug. 2.

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