New alcohol policy would allow outdoor drinking downtown every night


Liz Fabian

Macon-Bibb County commissioners allow alcohol consumption on the streets of downtown every night, not just Fridays.

Drinking alcohol on the streets of downtown Macon soon could be legal every night, not just Fridays.

In 2003, a law change permitted patrons of downtown Macon establishments to drink alcohol on the street every First Friday. Macon City Council in 2010 expanded the relaxed open container ordinance to every Friday so that people could stroll with cocktails in hand.

Due to COVID-19, Macon-Bibb County commissioners are now considering temporarily extending the policy to every night through the end of the year.

NewTown Macon requested the policy be expanded and the nonprofit organization will oversee and develop any guidelines should the extension be approved during the county commission’s meeting later this month.

Emily Hopkins, NewTown’s director of place, explained the proposal at this week’s Downtown Macon Community Association meeting.

Hopkins believes allowing alcohol consumption in the downtown district will help businesses suffering revenue losses due to the global pandemic.

“Restaurants and bars have been hit pretty hard in all of this,” Hopkins said. “If people want to get a drink but they don’t want to sit in a bar or restaurant… this is one way we can help some folks.”

There are restrictions in the law. It doesn’t allow anyone to bring their own alcohol downtown to drink outdoors but provides for people to purchase alcohol in approved containers from participating businesses. Those consuming alcohol must wear a designated wristband in order to wander downtown while drinking.

The proposal defines the downtown business area as the streets, public parks, picnic areas, sidewalks and alleys within the boundaries of First, Walnut, Fifth and Poplar streets and portions of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. from Fifth to Poplar streets.

Only establishments licensed to sell alcoholic beverages are allowed to participate. Those businesses not providing approved containers and wristbands, who allow customers to leave with alcohol, will be breaking the law.

NewTown will register participating businesses and distribute the approved containers and wristbands.

The revised open container law would cover the hours of 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night.

All other alcohol consumption on the street would be banned unless there is prior approval for a special event.

Commissioner Larry Schlesinger, who is sponsoring the resolution, sees it as a way to help businesses survive.

“I just want to make sure our stores downtown stay in business,” Schlesinger said. “Josh Rogers of NewTown told me if we have to go into another lockdown, there will be businesses downtown closing for good. That’ really the last thing we need given the progress we’ve made downtown.”

The county’s Economic and Community Development committee will debate the proposal Tuesday morning and could send it to the full commission for a vote Aug. 18.

Due to social distancing restrictions limiting attendance in public meetings, anyone wishing to address commissioners about the proposed change in the open container law is urged to send a comment buy registering online at the website or email [email protected].

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]