Access, liability a concern for drinking on Jackson Street

A discussion about closing portions of Jackson Street in Anoka and allowing people downtown to wander in and out of downtown bars with their alcoholic drinks during special events quickly hit roadblocks on safety and enforcement.

The Anoka City Council entertained the idea at a July 22 work session after there have been several street closing this summer for special events. The sale or consumption of alcohol was not permitted at any of these gatherings on city streets.

The same question was also raised last year when the Anoka High School all-class reunion was held on Jackson Street after Anoka Halloween’s Light up the Night parade.

“It’s a question that comes up about four or five times every year,” said City Clerk Amy Oehlers.

According to Oehlers, in order to allow the public consumption of alcohol outside of an already licensed premise, the city would need to designate the special event as a community festival.

But both Anoka’s city attorney and police chief had concerns about how this type of event could be managed.

“We do have concerns about public safety. From a police perspective it could be really hard to control,” said Police Chief Phil Johanson.

He had concerns about the many ways Jackson Street can be accessed, even if it was fenced off at an intersection. This could lead to minors consuming alcohol, or people bringing in their own drinks to an event, Johanson said.

“With the closure of a public street comes the added potential for liability and responsibility,” said City Attorney Scott Baumgartner.

He said while he liked the concept, the logistics are a challenge.

Billy’s owner Paul Justen said he could take or leave the idea of allowing customers to go in and out of the downtown bars with a drink in hand during a special event.

He did wonder how his staff would be able to tell if a customer had too much to drink if they are walking in the door with a drink already in hand.

“You wouldn’t even be able to cut someone off, because you aren’t serving them in the first place,” said Mayor Phil Rice.

A representative of BeerBelly’s on East Main Street also raised concerns.

This summer there have been a number of outdoor special events hosted by businesses in the entertainment district on and around Jackson Street. Alcohol has not been allowed at those events, which were in part hosted by local bars.

But the council is interested in considering requests for an outdoor bar in a contained area, similar to the annual Halloween tent party hosted by Serum’s. The alcohol is handled by the  Anoka Lions Club.

The requirement under state statute is that the liquor license of this type of off-site special event must be held by a non-profit organization, according to Oehlers.

The downtown bars also hire officers to police the event on each of the two nights.

Councilmember Steve Schmidt said while the council could look at proposals from a local bar, or group of bars, he didn’t see the city, “driving the bus on this.”

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]