Officials take action toward alcohol sales in Longview's Heritage Plaza
By Jimmy Isaac firstname.lastname@example.org
Aug. 22, 2011 at 11 p.m.
The city's seven-member Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission voted Monday to recommend allowing alcohol sales and consumption at downtown Longview parks, particularly Heritage Plaza.
"I see this as an economic development issue," Longview resident and retired News-Journal publisher Glenn McCutchen told commissioners. "If you don't think alcohol is consumed in Heritage Plaza now, you should go there at AlleyFest and see."
With Monday's recommendation, Longview City Council members as early as Sept. 8 can amend ordinances to allow usage or Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission-permitted sales at parks in the central business district. Heritage Plaza is not the only park in the area, but alcohol usage probably would not be considered at Magrill Park - between Green, First, Padon and Grove streets - because it is the Longview Transit public bus transfer station, Community Services Director Laura Hill said.
Commissioners' unanimous vote was in spite of words from local resident and retiree Bill Keith, who said the last thing Longview needs are more locations for alcohol consumption. Keith said statistics reveal higher levels of hospitalization for people who abuse alcohol and that alcohol consumption is prevalent in as many as four in five homes where child abuse has occurred.
"I think the last thing in the world that this body needs to do is approve alcohol consumption," Keith said.
McCutcheon countered Keith, saying that after living in East Texas for the past two decades, he is confused by local drinking laws. For example, it is forbidden to bring alcohol to any Longview park including Heritage Plaza, but a non-intoxicated person can drink a beer in the middle of the adjoining street or on the edge of the park. Also, alcohol is consumed by some AlleyFest patrons during the three-day event each spring, he said.
Heritage Plaza was largely unused until the chamber's downtown director, Elaine Reynolds, opened fall and spring concert series there, McCutchen said.
Community Resources Coordinator Dietrich Johnson said that, if approved by council members, the city would amend ordinances for Heritage Plaza to mirror rules at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center. At Maude Cobb, any person who plans to sell alcohol or tickets into an event where alcohol will be served must obtain a TABC permit with signatures from the mayor's and Gregg County sheriff's offices, Maude Cobb director Dixie Golden said. If a Maude Cobb renter charges no admission but wants to provide alcohol, such as a wedding reception toast, a TABC permit is not required. In both instances, however, Golden contacts local police, fire personnel, municipal environmental health, Texas Department of Public Safety officials and others.
"I had talked to the Chamber at length about this a year ago ... because I had some of the same concerns about providing more opportunities in public for drinking," Parks and Recreation Commissioner Rhonda Ballard said. "This provides opportunities to increase our exposure for downtown and the changes that we've made, and it is an opportunity to expand the use of a beautiful part of our city."
In a separate matter, commissioners recommended naming a proposed water splash pad at Lear Park to honor the late Jack M. Mann, who led Made-Rite Bottling Co. in Longview for many years. The pad will be located on land between baseball and soccer fields at the park in what will be called the Dr. Pepper Pavilion.
Commission Chairman Les Rickett said he wanted to honor Mann for his lifetime of service to the city. McCutchen called Mann "one of the finest citizens of Longview" who helped in establishing the University of Texas at Tyler-Longview University Center.
"Mr. Mann never took the credit. He always gave the credit ... always wanted to stay in the background," Rickett said.
While fundraising was not discussed at Monday's meeting, Rickett provided flyers for a fundraising effort to build the splash pad and pavilion, along with park benches and tables. Commitment letters or checks to the Jack Mann Project are needed by Nov. 19 either by mail - PALS Foundation, P.O. Box 2761, Longview, TX, 75603 - or calling Rickett at (903) 353-0423, or emailing Johnson at email@example.com.
"The more the community puts into it, the better care that is taken of it, the more the sense of ownership improves, instead of us just funding it outright," Hill said.