Last June’s Palm Coast International Food & Wine Wine Festival in Central Park at Town Center was a bit light on one key ingredient: wine. The city had special wine glasses designed for the event, but precious little nectar of the gods to fill them with.
Beer, wine and even liquor sales and consumption do occur at special events at Central Park, but vendors are required to have their own liquor license.
The Palm Coast City Council is now considering applying for its own liquor license and, in an even more remarkable move, designating Central Park as a civic center. The park is little more than grass, paths of bricks and a pond. If the city secures the license, vendors who cater to events at Central Park would be able to sell alcohol under the city’s umbrella–an ironic turnaround for a city that only a few years ago waged a war of attrition to discourage ABC Liquor from building a store at Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road.
City Manager Jim Landon, who led the battle against ABC, said timing was important because planning is underway for the Rock ‘n’ Rib Fest on April 12 and 13 at Central Park. But the City Council pressed for more information during a lively discussion during a workshop meeting Tuesday morning, so the proposal will be once again scheduled for a future workshop, during which actual votes are not allowed.
Palm Coast’s special events have exceeded the city manager’s expectations. “We’ve done a lot of learning,” Landon said, noting that a previous City Council policy supported events to entertain residents and attract visitors, but to avoid spending tax money for expenses such as safety and cleanup. “The issue of how alcohol is served has been part of the learning curve,” Landon said.
Should the city secure a liquor license, it would create an odd contradiction with its own alcohol and drug policies. But no city employees would be involved in transporting or handling alcohol at special events. Any alcohol not sold and consumed would be taken back by distributors. “We’re not changing the structure of these events,” the city manager said. “The media makes it sound as if we’re turning it into something different.”
Liability would be no different because alcohol is already being sold, the city manager said. In answer to a question, Landon said not-for-profit groups that sell alcohol at events must, under state law, keep the money they earn, which would cut off a chance for the city to recoup expenses to host events. Those expenses for everything from portable potties to police cost in the “tens of thousands of dollars,” the city manager said.
Lisa Gardner, the events coordinator, said under the current system, vendors keep a larger share of proceeds to offset the cost to them of obtaining a liquor license. “We actually don’t get much benefit,” she said. After some discussion, Gardner said the city wants to earn enough money to cover costs and improve events. For example, this year’s Rock ‘n’ Rib Fest will have a barbecue contest with a $5,000 prize. “The next step would be to bring in a professional event. That requires a $20,000 purse.” The benefits would presumably include “bringing people into the community. They stay in our hotels.”
Those comments didn’t sit well with Councilman Jason DeLorenzo, who said events were upscale enough. “I have a family of four,” he said. “I can’t afford to go to the Rock ‘n’ Rib.” DeLorenzo criticized the entire approach to events as “short thinking.”
“We’re not going to hold events there in the future,” he said, referring to Central Park, because some of the land used is private and will be built on in the future. “The real state we use is on private property. This is going to cause a bigger problem down the road.” Landon countered that downtowns embrace special events and he expects businesses built in the area would work with those events.
Other City Council members questioned designating Central Park as a civic center, because “it’s not a building.” City staff members said they would determine if the park qualifies under state rules as a civic center, even though there is no building.
City Councilman Bill Lewis said beer and wine at special events is one thing, but “I have a problem with liquor in the park.” Later in the meeting he added, “You want to turn Central Park into a bar.” But Mayor Jon Netts said liquor is already served at events. “It depends on which tent you go to,” Netts said.
Netts asked for a list of cities and counties that have applied for and been granted a liquor license. Staff members could only mention Daytona Beach and Holly Hill, off the cuff–two cities Palm Coast has strained not to emulate in most ways, public partying included.
The mayor said events play an important role for the city, but he wants to continue to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on event costs. He hopes admission prices would be reduced if the city makes more money from alcohol sales, but said higher prices are to be expected at events. “You don’t go to one of these events to get a hamburger or a lobster roll,” Nets said. “You go for the ambiance,” Netts said. “We all agree these large events, the seafood fest and Rock ‘n’ Rib, bring in people from the outside. The only way expand community is to bring in people.”