A committee of the Jacksonville City Council spent more than an hour Friday discussing the possibility of establishing a new entertainment district.
Some City Council members have said they support the idea, through which the city could loosen some restrictions regarding alcohol in an attempt to attract new restaurants and unique business. Planning committee chair Jonathan Tompkins said, if successful, the plan would result in a retail and restaurant atmosphere akin to that of downtown Auburn.
“We don't create businesses. We can only hopefully create an environment where businesses can thrive,” said Tompkins. “I think we can end up with something that will attract a little higher level of business than what Jacksonville has been able to attract before.”
Council members at the meeting said they are only in the early discussion phase of the idea, and they are seeking public input on the matter. Council members are labeling the change an "entertainment district," but said that the phrase may mislead some residents.
"I don't think we're pushing for bars and saloons," Council President Mark Jones said. "I'm talking about mom-and-pop restaurants."
The council said the district might be established on West Mountain Street and a few blocks north along Pelham Road. Councilman Truman Norred described himself as a teetotaler and raised questions about establishing such a district on the city's busiest roads, noting that it would affect all residents and anyone who travels through town to get to Anniston and Jacksonville.
"We soften the language, but these are bars and liquor joints," Norred said. "I'm opposed to putting them anywhere."
Jacksonville resident Klaus Duncan said some members of the community are uncomfortable with the idea and feel an entertainment district would exist only to serve the student population. He called on the city to bring community members into the discussion.
"Get the city of Jacksonville involved," Duncan said. "You're going to have to sell it to them."
Tompkins said the city is not trying "to set up bars and liquor joints."
"It's not just 'I'm a teetotaler' or 'I'm a drunk’" Tompkins said. "There is a lot of room between those two extremes."
Council members made no definitive decision on the matter, but said they might allow local restaurants to sell liquor, permit people to drink alcohol while outside during festivals or relax restrictions that prevent businesses from selling alcohol if they are within 500 feet of another business that sells alcohol. The changes would apply only to the district, where Tompkins said he hoped people from out of town would gather for festivals, business and to dine out.
"It's setting up rules so that a particular area can attract a certain kind of development," Tompkins said.
Jones stressed that the city's leaders are only talking about the matter, noting that it would be some time before the governing body took action on it.
"I'm glad that we had this discussion, and it was just a discussion," Jones said.
During a recreational and leisure committee meeting earlier Friday morning, members recommended that the whole council consider installing cameras, door alarms and monitors at the library. Library Director Barbara Rowell received estimates for the work from ADS Security Systems, TCI, and IC Real Time.
According to city officials, Jacksonville will pay about $9,000 for the company to install the devices and monitor the system for the first year. Each year after that, the city will pay the company $300.
Council members voted to support TCI because it already outfits the city's train depot and community center with security systems, Jones said.
During a meeting of the full council held before the committee meetings, the council voted to use new DS200 voting machines.
Voters will mark their ballots by manually filling in a circle and feeding the paper into the machines.