MONROE — City Council recently discussed social districts and what it could mean for downtown Monroe. Council discussed social districts with Downtown Director Matt Black during their strategic meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12. They did not vote on whether to implement a social district. They received information and asked questions.

A social district is created by local governments who designate a common area where patrons of existing ABC alcohol permittees can congregate to drink purchased beverages. Patrons cannot bring their own alcohol to a social district.

Cities and counties can choose to adopt an ordinance that would allow them to designate a common area.

Black said a social district would be beneficial for downtown events like the Monroe Art Walk or when merchants would like to do a sip and shop.

“House Bill 890 did not create a statewide social district but instead allows cities and counties to opt-in to social districts via an ordinance. A city may adopt an ordinance designating an area within the municipal limits as a social district under G.S. 160A-205.4. A county may adopt an ordinance designating a social district for an area located outside a municipal boundary under G.S. 153A-145.9,” per the NC League of Municipalities.

If the common area is outdoors, it must be clearly defined. Signage must include; of days and times alcohol can be consumed, ALE division contact information, local law enforcement jurisdiction and a clear statement that says patrons must purchase and consume alcohol beverages in the district with proposed hours. The city must include the same information on their website as well as a map detailing the boundaries of the social district.

For ABC permittees, they can sell alcohol on their licensed premises and have specific cups with their logo and a logo from the city. The cup cannot be made of glass and cannot exceed 16 fluid ounces. These cups will not be sold by the city to the businesses. Businesses would have to purchase their own cups with the specific logos. Businesses are allowed to use a downtown sponsorship grant to purchase cups if that business is hosting an event sponsored by the city or when the city is hosting a public event like the Monroe Art Walk.

Alcoholic beverages must be purchased from the district permittee, must meet container requirements, must be consumed within the social districts days and hours. In addition, patrons can be served two alcoholic drinks at a time (two beers or two glasses of wine). Patrons can drink more than two total drinks, but served up to two at a time. Therefore, if a person is in a group of six people, that person would carry two drinks and two friends would carry a pair of drinks each.

Alcohol must be disposed of or consumed prior to going to another establishment that sells alcohol. For example, if a person would like to drink at one more than one establishment, they would have to either consume or dispose of their drink before going inside the second establishment. Patrons cannot take a beverage from one establishment to another.

Speaking about Music on Main, Interim City Manager Brian Borne said, “you can’t come into the Music on Main area with a beer from say, the pub on the corner and someone from the music area can’t go into the pub on the corner with a beer from the music event. That is ABC law and if that is done both establishments can lose their license.”

Black said the biggest risk factors for having a social district are businesses who are participating, losing their license “because they are still liable” and the City of Monroe because it is “public right away.”

Meetings with the Downtown Advisory Board and the Public Safety Committee have yet to be had. Those are necessary before social districts can be brought back to council for a vote. Boundaries of a possible social district in downtown have yet to be determined.

A bill on social districts was passed by both the House and Senate last month. Governor Roy Cooper signed the bill on Sept. 10. Social districts are not a requirement for cities and it is up to cities to determine the designated common areas. “The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association was the major interest group pushing for the passage of this important legislation to drive foot traffic to downtown businesses and level the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses with ABC permits,” according to the NC League of Municipalities.