From Main Street to Bourbon Street? Davidson commissioners weigh plans for social districts

At its Tuesday meeting, Davidson Board of Commissioners members seemed apprehensive about a proposal that would bring two social districts to the town, but also appeared hopeful that the measure would increase revenue at local establishments.

Social districts are newly possible in North Carlolina thanks to House Bill 890, a measure allowing cities and counties to define outdoor spaces where people can legally drink alcoholic beverages bought from a state-permitted business.

In Davidson, a proposal for one social district would include areas along North Main Street and South Main Street, and the other would be at The Circles at 30, where concerts are typically held, according to Davidson Economic Development Director Kim Fleming.

The proposed boundaries for a social district along Main Street in Davidson.
The proposed boundaries for a social district along Main Street in Davidson.
The proposed boundary for a social district at The Circles at 30 in Davidson.
The proposed boundary for a social district at The Circles at 30 in Davidson.

Fleming told the board that a number of local businesses are in favor of the idea, noting that the measure would only allow open containers and do not permit “additional dispensing” of alcohol in the districts. The boundaries could also be changed before they are presented to the board for a vote, Fleming said. A vote on the proposal will likely take place on May 9.

Social districts have been implemented in neighboring towns, including Mooresville, Huntersville and Cornelius, where they have been successful, Fleming said.

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“It’s a way to increase foot traffic in our commercial areas, and it is also a way for businesses to expand revenue opportunities,” said Fleming. “We’re not talking about creating Bourbon Street.”

The social districts would operate every day from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., according to the proposal. Businesses would be required to have signage indicating they are part of the social district, and serve alcohol in cups that display the town-approved social district logo.

Concerns from commissioners

Board members expressed the concerns about some by-products of potential social districts, including the possibility of excessive litter since alcohol would be served in disposable cups. Mayor Rusty Knox suggested that the town make it requirement for the cups to be recyclable.

“I just don’t want to get my coffee on Saturday morning and see 900 red Solo cups strewn all over the place,” Knox said. “Just the way we are right now, our trash cans are full after a Friday night at Summit (Coffee).”

Commissioner Ryan Fay pointed out that social districts could lead to problems with pedestrian safety on roadways where incidents have already occurred. At least two pedestrians have been struck and killed by vehicles on Davidson’s Main Street since 2016.

“We’re asking people to consume alcohol and walk in an area where we’ve already had issues with not consuming alcohol,” Fay said. “I think that’s something we have to weigh very heavily.”

Fay also noted that signs could cause confusion about the boundaries of the social districts.

“I have a month to sleep on this and get some additional answers,” Fay said. “That’s all I’m looking for is additional answers.”

To help with their decision, the board requested data from Fleming on how nearby social districts are performing, and expressed optimism that the measure would work in Davidson.

Earlier this year, Cornelius expanded its social district to include the sidewalk by the recently opened Cain Center. Town officials have been getting requests to extend the district further due to its success, Cornelius commissioner Denis Bilodeau told The Charlotte Observer in January.

“I don’t know if the sky is going to fall in Davidson, North Carolina if we create a social district,” commissioner Matt Dellinger said. “I doubt that Main Street is going to become Bourbon Street.”

Commissioners will discuss the proposal further at their April 25 meeting, where there will be an opportunity for public comment.