Council member’s idea: Drink on St. Pete streets to help the arts

ST. PETERSBURG— If Jim Kennedy can persuade fellow council members on the merits of his booze-for-arts idea, you might be able to stroll along Beach Drive with a drink in your hand.

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Kennedy’s proposal would create wet zones in neighborhoods like the popular stretch of St. Petersburg’s waterfront or Grand Central where drinkers could buy an artist-designed cup, fill it to the brim at establishments and tote their liquor as they wend their way from restaurant to bar to art gallery.

Cash from sales of the cups would go toward an arts endowment the city has struggled for years to fund. Last month, the council went along with Kennedy’s idea of funneling $200,000 to the arts from city contingency funds while a long-term solution is reached.

The City Council will decide whether to pursue Kennedy’s latest idea at Thursday’s meeting.

“I would think people would be willing to pay $1 for a cup they can take on the street,” he said.

Exactly where open containers would be allowed and with what restrictions hasn’t been worked out yet, he said. His business item for the meeting states only the wet zones would be for “particular days and specific hours.”

“This is still very much a rough draft of an idea,” Kennedy said, adding that he hasn’t talked to Mayor Rick Kriseman or police Chief Tony Holloway about it.

Holloway declined comment, but Kriseman has thought along similar lines, said spokesman Ben Kirby.

“The mayor welcomes a conversation on that idea,” Kirby said.

A similar measure recently won approval in Tampa. Its City Council voted last month to allow open containers of wine, beer and liquor on the Riverwalk with several restrictions, including bans on early morning drinking and the number of drinks a person could have at one time.

Proponents argued it would enhance downtown nightlife. Opponents, including two council members, worried that drinks would fall into the hands of minors or the homeless and warned about an uptick in drunken driving.

Tampa crafted its open container ordinance as a “specialty center,” a state designation that carves out an exemption of the city’s general ban on drinking in public. That eliminates trying to take away wet-zoning approval from a specific bar or nightclub after it has been granted— a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Jo Newton, executive director of the West Central Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said her organization looks at open container areas the same way it would at an indoor establishment that serves liquor: It’s not the venue, but rather getting home safely that matters.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a show or a restaurant or outside at an art walk,” Newton said.

Kennedy sees an untapped market in marrying art and alcohol. An artist designed cup, sticker or bracelet could become a piece of art in itself.

“All of a sudden, you’re creating collector’s pieces,” he said.

The first step for Kennedy is to get the council on board. But at least one member isn’t ready to commit.

“I’m sympathetic to the goal, but I’m not ready to say it’s a good idea until I talk to the police,” said Karl Nurse.

John Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, wasn’t aware of Kennedy’s plan when contacted by the Tampa Bay Times, but liked it.

“I’m delighted to hear that council member Kennedy and others are exploring innovative ideas on how we might collaborate on additional income streams for the arts,” Collins said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago