Four proposed changes to Statesboro’s local alcoholic beverage law are on the City Council agenda again for Tuesday, and the fate of one remains particularly uncertain.
A proposed Statesboro alcohol ordinance amendment that would create a “music hall” designation requiring separate areas for patrons ages 18-20 to attend performances in bars drew unfavorable comments last month from business owners and Mayor Jonathan McCollar.
“To me this is becoming too regulatory,” McCollar said, deep in the discussion for the official first reading of the amendment May 15.
“This is America, right? We do believe in capitalism, right? It’s becoming too regulatory,” he continued. “The problem that I’m seeing is that we’re not putting ourselves into a position to be able to compete, and becoming too regulatory. That’s stifling to business.”
The mayor noted, as he has in more than one context recently, that Statesboro is no longer the only home town of Georgia Southern University. Consolidation with the former Armstrong State University created a Georgia Southern that also has campuses in Savannah and Hinesville. This means Statesboro must compete even for GSU students, he said.
“To me, this is nonsense,” was another way McCollar described the city’s keeping adults 18-20 out of entertainment venues that serve alcohol. He noted that they are old enough to serve in the military and “to die for this country.”
Since the beginning of 2018, the city of Statesboro’s Alcohol Advisory Board has considered options for giving 18-20 year olds access to live musical performances at bars, restricted here to patrons age 21 and up, the nationwide legal drinking age.
Option A of the proposed amendment, recommended by the advisory board on a 5-0 vote Feb. 12, would simply track an existing state law.
Called Michael’s Law and inspired by a tragic event in Statesboro, the 2016 Georgia law generally prohibits customers under age 21 in bars, defined as places that make 75 percent or more of their money on the sale of alcohol. However, the state law also provides some loopholes.
Unless subject to stricter local rules, people ages 18-20 can get into a bar unaccompanied for “a live musical concert or live presentation of the performing arts” with an admission charge.
Option A would also mean scrapping Statesboro’s current, unique definition of a bar. The city’s Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance calls on the chief of police or someone he designates to decide whether a business qualifies as a “bar, night club, lounge or similar business” subject to the 21-and-up restriction. The ordinance spells out certain things businesses do that may flag them as bars, such as employing door security, staying open past midnight and serving little food. Based on these guidelines, businesses that are restaurants for much of the week can even be designated as bars during certain hours.
Option B, favored by Statesboro Police Department leaders, would retain this local definition and also designate some bars as music halls, requiring a physical barrier between alcohol service and consumption areas and young adults under 21.
“It sounds, I think a little bit onerous, again, but to my mind it’s no different than setting up a beer garden at an event,” Chief of Police Mike Broadhead told the mayor and council May 15. “There is a consumption area and then there is a non-consumption area. I guess I resist the notion in our community that we have to have alcohol in order to have fun.”
Option A would mean adopting the state’s minimal definition of a bar, which requires only that a place make about 26 percent of its revenue from sales of non-alcohol items to be considered a restaurant, Broadhead noted.
“That means that all year they are allowed to have 18s-and-up inside that establishment and those crowds will be mixed, and that’s where the enforcement part becomes very difficult for us,” he said.
Wristbands would then be used to mark those over 21 after they are checked for proper ID, but police are already “constantly fighting a battle of underage people trying to access alcohol,” he said.
The Alcohol Advisory Board also recommended Option B, by a 4-2 vote on May 7, and both options were presented to City Council.
We don’t let 17-year-olds into smoke shops, we don’t let 19-year-olds into liquor stores, yet we’re going to let 18-year-olds into a bar just because they have ticket sales?Councilman Phil Boyum
Al Chapman III, owner of Gnat’s Landing and Del Sur, agreed that a 21-and-over restriction is simpler for preventing underage drinking. But he asserted that rules setting different times and areas for age groups in the same establishment are a challenge for the businesses, their employees and patrons.
“Has anyone ever been to a restaurant, anywhere in the United States, Hong Kong, China, anywhere, where someone’s walked up to your table and asked you for an ID, and if anyone was underage, they asked you to leave?” Chapman asked the city officials “Has that ever happened to anyone? Never? Anybody?”
Joe Lanier, a former owner of Loco’s, said what the businesses need from the city is “clarity of vision.”
“If we want bars and restaurants, let’s make bars and restaurants,” Lanier said. “This right here is blurring the lines.”
Councilman Phil Boyum said the state’s requirement for only, in effect, 26 percent non-alcoholic revenue includes counting sales of the tickets to hear someone strum a guitar.
“We don’t let 17-year-olds into smoke shops, we don’t let 19-year-olds into liquor stores, yet we’re going to let 18-year-olds into a bar just because they have ticket sales?” he said.
May be postponed
Both versions of this amendment and the other three amendments are on the agenda for a second reading and possible adoption during Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting.
However, it is also possible that nothing will be decided then. During the May 15 meeting some council members mentioned the possibility of a further work session on one or more of the amendments.
“As it stands now they are on the agenda, but of course they can be pulled for scheduling a work session if so determined by mayor and council,” City Attorney Cain Smith said Thursday.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.