The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 to restrict open containers of alcohol on public property across the city with limited exceptions in two geographic areas.
Even within the two exception areas—called Arts, Culture and Entertainment (ACE) districts—the open container regulations will tighten compared to the current regulations. The new regulations will begin on Jan. 1.
The law will ban open containers throughout the city. Within the two ACE districts, open containers will be allowed from 8 a.m. to midnight.
The split vote puts to rest multiple years of deliberation by two separate City Commissions. The regulations address concerns of the Gainesville Police Department and citizens about roving parties and gun violence. However, other citizens and commissioners have questioned links between open containers and gun violence.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens couldn’t have open containers of alcohol on public property. The City Commission at the time voted to lift the restriction as an aid to businesses struggling with pandemic restrictions and patrons wanting space.
Lifting the restriction allowed downtown restaurants to use patio seating and create an ad hoc streetery concept. In August 2021, the previous commission voted to allow open containers permanently, calling the previous restriction discriminatory.
The regulation set in place allowed open containers except between the hours of 2:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. In May 2022, the City Commission reconsidered the ordinance because of crowd control issues brought forward by the police department.
A motion at the meeting directed city staff to bring forward a new open container ordinance with options for business exemptions. The motion was never finalized.
Under a new City Commission in August 2023, the open container issue returned—with conversation turning around the city’s local work on rising gun violence seen across the nation.
In a nearly identical motion to that from May 2022, the commission voted 4-3 on the motions finalized Thursday.
The new law came through two separate motions that both passed 4-3 but with different commissioners in the majority and minority.
Commissioners Bryan Eastman, Reina Saco and Casey Willits were in dissent on the motion to ban open containers throughout the city. Commissioners Ed Book, Desmon Duncan-Walker and Cynthia Chestnut were in dissent for the motion to create the two ACE districts where open containers are allowed.
Mayor Harvey Ward provided the swing vote for both items. In August, he insisted that ACE districts be included in order to garner his support on the open container ban in the rest of the city.
Commissioners hope the districts will allow for vibrant, flexible events while still addressing concerns about having open containers anywhere in the city.
“I hope that this is just the start of a larger conversation,” Eastman said. “As we identify which parts of our city are the places that as people come into town, that there is art, that there is culture, that there is entertainment. That we view these as more than just open alcohol type of areas.”
The commission plans to use markers to designate the ACE districts. Other cities have established similar districts, including Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama; Savannah and Dunwoody, Georgia; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Durham, North Carolina; and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The downtown district, pictured above, wraps around the intersection of University Avenue and Main Street—two blocks to the north, five blocks south, two blocks east and six blocks west—with segments reaching south to Depot Park.
The Grove Street ACE district, pictured below, runs north and south on NW 10th Avenue between NW 2nd and 4th streets.