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GA: Does Savannah need a vision for a revised alcohol ordinance?

GA: Does Savannah need a vision for a revised alcohol ordinance?


Savannah Now

By Bill Dawers

July 13, 2015

At the Savannah City Council workshop session on July 9, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Herman gave a presentation about the latest revisions to the proposed new alcohol ordinance.


The first questions from council members suggested that there is broad agreement on the key changes in the ordinance.


Deeper into the conversation, however, the elected officials had some tougher critiques of the current draft.


For example, Tom Bordeaux — himself an attorney — thinks much of the language needs to be more precise.


Bordeaux also joined Van Johnson in concerns about the lack of a “vision” for the city regarding alcohol policy. Alderman Tony Thomas added the word “brand” to the discussion.


As Thomas noted, “Savannah at midday versus Savannah at midnight is two different cities.”


That’s not a bad thing, of course. Savannah is a major tourist destination, a regional economic hub and home to large numbers of soldiers and college students.


Savannah is big enough to be different things to different people.


So, a “vision” for alcohol policy in such a diverse city?


Let me take a roundabout stab at that question.


I wish I had the proverbial dollar for every time I’ve seen downtown visitors’ faces light up when they realize they can take drinks outside as long as they stay north of Jones Street.


They’re not happy because they want to get blindingly drunk — one can do that anywhere — but because the policy seems so hospitable, sensible and, yes, even civilized.


In a nation where drinking in public has been stigmatized, Savannah’s to-go cups seem wonderfully libertarian. And there’s a bit of libertinism, too, which echoes the city’s longstanding acceptance of eccentricity.


To-go cups in Savannah have also turned out to be a tool for economic development. It should come as no surprise that the practical folks in Ohio recently approved the creation of legal outdoor drinking areas in any city with more than 35,000 residents.


There are obviously many other components of the alcohol ordinance than the to-go cup regulations, which seem likely to change very little when and if a new ordinance is adopted.


Frankly, I see great benefits in expanding the to-go cup zone, but there is no public consensus on that.


And the members of city council seem to have some valid concerns about package sales at convenience stores in certain neighborhoods.


Still, those to-go cups might be a good metaphor for the personal freedom and personal responsibility in Savannah’s alcohol “vision.”


You can watch reruns of the entire July 9 workshop on the Savannah Government Channel. The video is also available on the city’s website.