Bug Light Park in South Portland could be one of the public places in the city where alcohol could be served during special events if the council approves an ordinance change. File

SOUTH PORTLAND — A majority of city councilors said they would support a rule allowing alcohol at one-time special events, but Mayor Kate Lewis and Councilor April Caricchio said they are philosophically opposed to serving alcohol in city-owned parks.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Caricchio said. “I’m not a Puritan, but I don’t believe this will be beneficial to the community in the long run. I personally don’t believe that we need to take our beautiful parks and serve alcohol in order for us to get the most out of (them).”

“We need to stop and think,” she said.

“I don’t support fencing off public spaces and blocking park usage to the public,” Lewis said.

Other objections, Lewis said, include exposing potentially vulnerable people to the public consumption of alcohol.

Lewis also argued that South Portland is already host to a number of events that draw thousands of people, like the annual Tri for a Cure and the Art in Park, “and people don’t stay home because they can’t have a beer.”

A local ordinance now prohibits the possession and consumption of alcohol in any recreational areas. In recent years, staff have received multiple inquiries and requests for permission to allow alcohol to be served on public property, according to City Manager Scott Morelli.

At a March 10 workshop, Morelli said there are  benefits allowing alcohol to be served, as long as there are “proper restrictions in place to help ensure public safety.” Such benefits include more revenue from fees to offset taxes that fund maintenance and make improvements at city parks and other open spaces.

South Portland Mayor Kate Lewis is opposed to allowing alcohol to be served in public parks. Courtesy

Economic Development Director Bill Mann said there’s a significant economic benefit to communities that host special events like 5K road races and festivals that also include alcohol.

In a memo to the council, Mann said the Maine Sports Commission recently found that the typical participant at running events spends approximately $191 a day in the community where the event is held. An event drawing 500 people, for example, would equate to an economic impact of $95,508 per event.

Morelli and Mann said the council declined to amend the local prohibition in 2013. Since then,  Mann said “there’s been a cultural shift and we’re now seeing the marriage of craft brewing and sporting events.”

He agreed with Morelli that as long as such events are “closely monitored,” there shouldn’t be any negative impacts. In a memo to the council, both the fire and police chiefs also said that their departments can easily handle any public safety aspects.

Mann said the ability to serve alcohol would be limited to Bug Light Park, Mill Creek Park, Thomas Knight Park, Wainwright Fields and the Red Bank community fields.

City Clerk Emily Scully said that any permit for serving alcohol could include a caveat that each event be pre-approved by a supermajority of councilors and that service would only be allowed in a secure, enclosed area accessible to those 21 and over.

Kevin Adams, South Portland’s parks and recreation director, said the city has “beautiful parks” and these “festival-type events are becoming more popular and allowing alcohol would enhance some of these events and help improve attendance.”

Sean Sullivan, executive director of the South Portland-based Maine Brewers’ Guild, said Tuesday that allowing the service of alcoholic beverages at special events is “about so much more than alcohol, it’s about being community-centered.”

“I would love to hold (brew festivals) in South Portland,” Sullivan said. “I’ve done a dozen of these without incident.”

Councilor Katelyn Bruzgo said allowing alcohol at special events is “not about getting drunk. People are looking for an (overall) experience.” Councilor Misha Pride agreed and said “these are great events that attract people and they are a good thing for South Portland. I’m fully in favor.”

While not an enthusiastic supporter of the rule change, Councilor Sue Henderson said she would be “comfortable with it” and it might not “be so bad for kids to see their parents drinking in moderation.”

 

Comments are not available on this story.