TUPELO • City leaders voted Tuesday to temporarily expand Tupelo’s leisure and recreation district to the entire city, which could allow every restaurant in the city with an Alcohol Beverage Control permit to serve mixed drinks to patrons in a go-cup by curbside or drive-thru means.
The Tupelo City Council voted to approve the temporary leisure and recreation district ordinance in a 4-3 vote. Under the city’s normal leisure and recreation district ordinance, the boundaries are contained to the downtown area, where people are allowed to have an open container of alcohol in a go-cup during certain times of the week. Now, the geographic boundaries will expand to the entire city and the hours will last for the majority of the week.
According to city officials, Tupelo is now able to have this amended ordinance because of temporary changes to the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control regulations. The new rules have allowed businesses to serve mixed drinks and wine through curbside means as long as the businesses were in a leisure and recreation district.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton told the Daily Journal that the intent of the temporary ordinance is to allow Tupelo restaurants to gain a new source of revenue during the economic troubles that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People need to really be fully aware that there’s most likely going to be increased police protection and police patrols in the coming days and weeks,” Shelton told the Daily Journal. “I don’t want anybody to have the misconception that this is a time to party. It’s just not that. This is a revenue measure because restaurants are on the brink of closing.”
In order to purchase a mixed drink, patrons must purchase a meal worth at least $10. The intent from Shelton’s administration is for people to receive the drink and food at the restaurant, drive home without consuming the beverage and to consume the food and beverage at a person’s residence.
However, some Council members voiced opposition to the measure by saying the city needs more time to work out the details of the ordinance and that the meausre would encourage people to drink and drive.
Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer made a motion for the amendment to be tabled for further study, but the measure was defeated. Before the final vote took place, Palmer told the Daily Journal that he supported the general intent of the ordinance, but had several questions that were not answered about the change such as how many drinks people could purchase and what the size of the drinks would be.
“I typically am for all of our businesses in Tupelo, but I believe the restaurant owners ... do not have enough information to make a reasonable decision at this time,” Palmer told the rest of the Council.
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan has long opposed any local ordinances regarding increased access to alcohol purchases. He told the Daily Journal he thought the temporary amendment is “crazy” and encouraged his colleagues to vote against the measure.
“I think it’s ludicrous to serve an open container or to serve a mixed drink to a vehicle by curbside or by pickup or carryout and allow them to have that open container in the vehicle,” Bryan said. “To me, if the city of Tupelo allows that to happen, we are doing nothing but promoting drinking and driving.”
Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings also said this would promote drinking and driving in the city, and it would create new enforcement problems for police officers for open container violations.
Ward 3 Councilman Travis Beard, who has previously voted against any ordinance regarding alcohol, voted against Palmer’s motion to table the ordinance and voted to approve the temporary change.
Beard told the Daily Journal after the vote that he made the decision to vote in favor of the ordinance to temporarily provide a way to help out local restaurants.
“What people do is up to them,” Beard said. “Personally, I have no use for alcohol in any form. But it doesn’t seem fair to me for the businesses downtown to be able to do this, but those up the street can’t.”
Council members Markel Whittington, Lynn Bryan, Travis Beard and Nettie Davis voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Buddy Palmer, Mike Bryan and Willie Jennings voted against the ordinance.
People will now be able to purchase alcohol from restaurants choosing to participate in this new option from Monday at 10 a.m. until Saturday at midnight.
The temporary change is set to last for 90 days. After the 90-day period, the Council will reconvene to review the changes and vote to either continue the amended ordinance or revert back to the original ordinance. The ordinance does not go into effect immediately. ABC must approve of the city's ordinance, according to a city spokesperson.