Downtown historic district

Patrons of some downtown Anniston bars and restaurants hoping to eat and drink in specially designed outdoor spaces will have to wait a bit longer.  

A bill that would have allowed for that died after a lawmaker said she received calls against it from downtown business owners.

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, proposed the bill, Senate Bill 352, which would allow outdoor seating areas for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol even if that outdoor area is not directly connected to the premises.

The bill would have legalized “parklets,” which are constructed patio areas built over parking spaces near bars and restaurants located within designated areas of Anniston and other similarly sized cities.

Toby Bennington, Anniston’s director of economic development and city planner, said Friday that he’s uncertain what the bill's failure could mean for Anniston’s parklets, which would have been located within Anniston’s downtown entertainment district, established by the previous council in October 2016.

The entertainment district encompasses the city’s historic downtown district along Noble Street, including properties between 9th and 14th Streets and along 15th Street between Cooper Avenue and Walnut Avenue.  

Bennington said the bill was an amendment to the city’s existing law, and would have “clarified and defined what constitutes a franchise area for a business.” That’s needed, he said, to ensure a business that wants to set up outdoor tables or install a parklet doesn’t run afoul of Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board requirements.

Kent Davis, city manager, said the ABC Board took action against other alabama cities with parklets that weren’t directly connected to the bars or restaurants that owned them. The bill would have clarified that point and allowed Anniston businesses to open parklets in parking lots in front of their establishments, he said.

“I think that perhaps Barbara Boyd may have had a problem with that bill,” Marsh said Friday. “Of course, we had problems getting any legislation through there.”

In the closing days of the legislative session Democrats filibustered a bill that would have redrawn district lines, which threatened to stall votes on several bills.  

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said she received calls from several business owners on Noble Street who were concerned that the bill would result in crowds of people drinking and littering on Noble, and could lead to problems with parking.

“We were so pushed at the end of the session and there were  issues that we need to address,” Boyd said. “Anytime you have more people the danger is of having other problems. On the other hand it would be a profit to Anniston economically.”

Boyd said if the bill is brought back up she would like to see amendments made to address the concerns she heard from business owners.

Ann Welch, owner of Nunnally’s Framing on Noble, declined to say whether she called Boyd about the bill, but said she does talk to Boyd regularly about all sorts of issues, and has been vocal about her concerns over the entertainment district and parklets.

“I’m glad to hear that bill didn't get out of the house. I am not opposed to an entertainment district at all,” Welch said, but she doesn’t want it on Noble and thinks more needs to be known about the impact of the district and parklets on other downtown businesses and the city’s budget.

Welch said she’d like to see a detailed impact study done to show whether the entertainment district and parklets would increase the need for costly security, lighting and litter pick-up downtown.

“I want our restaurants to prosper. I hope they all do well...but I think that you can’t do it when you don't consider all the effects,” Welch said.

Asked if she’s spoken with the restaurant owners about the entertainment district or parklets Welch said that she hasn't.

Sam Sutchaleo, owner of Thai One On, said his Noble Street restaurant needs the boost a parklet could provide, and he’s disheartened that the bill died.

“It would be good for the city. If we don’t start changing this city nothing is going to happen,” Sutchaleo said. “I may look for a place to move … I’m so frustrated.”

Attempts to reach Rebecca Robinson, owner of Rack and Roll Billiards, on Friday were unsuccessful. Robinson told The Star earlier this month that she planned to install a parklet outside her Noble Street business.

“It’s somewhat disappointing because we’ve had a number of positive inquiries from downtown businesses,” Bennington said. “They went through our parklet manual and were very excited about it.”

Davis said he understands that not all business would support parklets, but that many restaurant and bar owners were in favor of them.

When lawmakers began filibustering in the closing days of the legislative session, Davis said he became concerned the parklet bill wouldn’t pass in time.

“We figured we might have to revisit next year,” Davis said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.