More Triad cities prepare for 'social districts'

More Triad cities prepare for 'social districts'

11:01am Mar 25, 2022
Winston-Salem may soon consider designating a downtown social district where restaurant and bar patrons can get alcoholic drinks to-go. PAUL GARBER/WFDD

A growing number of North Carolina cities are approving what’s called a “downtown social district,” where people can take alcoholic drinks from restaurants and bars into the streets. Triad city leaders have mixed feelings about the idea. 

New state regulations are allowing municipalities to sell alcohol to-go in special cups. Pedestrians are then able to walk outside in designated areas.

Greensboro was the first North Carolina city to open up a social district in its downtown. Zack Matheny, President of Downtown Greensboro Inc., says the initiative has been a success.  

"So when the state did this with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, the goal was to get folks out of restaurants and bars, and into more retail establishments," says Matheny. "And what we’re seeing is, that is actually happening."

High Point City Council unanimously approved a social district in its downtown area, which includes the rapidly expanding Congdon Yards. Mayor Jay Wagner says he’s enthusiastic, but he's concerned about some of the enforcement regulations being proposed by the state ABC Commission, including the use of barriers restricting the flow of pedestrian traffic. 

"We want people to be able to move freely around our downtown. We don’t want to have to put up barriers on our sidewalks and do things that are going to detract from the experience of being able to come downtown and enjoy a social district," says Wagner. 

Winston-Salem officials are now cautiously considering designating a social district.

Jason Thiel, President of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership, says he has gotten a mixed response from the downtown restaurant and business community and believes the city should take baby steps.

"I prefer to do it in smaller districts," says Thiel. "I prefer to do it with special events. I want to use the tools strategically."  

Thiel anticipates that City Council will take up the discussion in April.

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