Starting Friday night, visitors to the River Market District will be able to bring alcoholic beverages outside as a part of the newly established entertainment district.
The four-block zone stretches along President Clinton Ave. from South Cumberland St. to Interstate 30. Patrons 21 and older will be allowed to carry their drink in the established zone as long as they have purchased the approved wristband and cup.
The cup and wristband combination costs $1 and can be reused for a limited amount of time. This is because the cups themselves are compostable, with a 45 to 60 day shelf life. While that means businesses will need to restock cups on a greater than average basis, Daniel Bryant, owner of Ernie Biggs, Gus’s Chicken and Big Whiskey’s, says those involved in the entertainment district value the sustainability aspect.
"They either needed to be recyclable and compostable and since we don’t have a comprehensive recycle program down here right now, we didn’t want to be putting any more trash into the normal landfills than we had to if it wasn’t compostable," Bryant said.
Alcohol will be allowed outside in the district on Fridays from 5 p.m. until midnight, Saturdays from 8 a.m. until midnight and on Sundays from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Additional hours will be available on certain holidays.
Diana Long, Director of River Market Operations for the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, says the goal is not to emulate famed entertainment districts such as Beale Street in Memphis or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
"It’s just a way to give people that option of being able to do a little something different, a little something more. These districts are very popular in lots and lots of cities, lots of cities that are the size of Little Rock," Long said.
According to Long, officials did look at smaller entertainment districts in Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama as possible models. Road closures are not expected to occur on a regular basis, though Long does expect possible closures the first few weekends because of larger crowds. One reason for those crowds could be upcoming concerts from both Chris Stapleton and Clint Black on consecutive weekends.
"We’ll see lots of people around. That would be the reason that they might close the streets, just based on traffic flow of both pedestrians and vehicles. And so it’s just going to be a couple of really busy weekends and it just worked to where that’s fallen on the same nights," Long said.
The creation of the entertainment district is possible due to a state law passed last session that allows the temporary or permanent establishment of such districts. Act 812, passed both the Arkansas House and Senate with bipartisan support. A similar bill almost became law more than 10 years ago, but was ultimately vetoed by then Gov. Mike Huckabee. Bryant believes the establishment of more districts since then helped the bill this time around.
"We weren’t exactly the canary in the coalmine anymore. There were some tried and true models that were out there that we were able to point to and it’s all been positive," Bryant said.
As far as expansion possibilities, Long believes where you can take your drink is more likely to expand before when you can.
"I know there’s areas of the district that would love to be in it, but as a start we could not do that…so I think there will be some demand to grow it," Long said.