That's the question Denver city employees and elected officials will grapple with in the coming months, as they consider a proposal to create a common liquor consumption area licensing program as early as mid-2020.
The Department of Excise and Licenses, which is behind the initiative, is presenting its proposal at a Denver City Council committee today, October 23. During the presentation, staff from the department will stress that the program won't turn Denver into a gigantic, never-ending boozefest.
"It is not Las Vegas; it is not Bourbon Street," says Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for Excise and Licenses.
Instead, there will be mini-Bourbon Streets. During the city's proposed five-year pilot program, bars and restaurants will be able to band together and gain official recognition from the city as "promotional associations."
Then, they will be able to apply for common consumption area licenses, which last for a year and can be renewed annually. Concurrent to that application, the bars will have to propose an entertainment district, in which the consumption area will be located. The city doesn't currently have any entertainment districts.
Venues in Larimer Square, for example, could band together, get these authorizations, and turn the area into even more of a playground for drinkers. Escudero lists Dairy Block in LoDo, Denver's Arts District on Santa Fe, the Great Hall at Denver International Airport and parts of the 16th Street Mall as other possible locations for common consumption areas.
In a common consumption area, a patron who buys a drink at one bar could then take it into the common consumption area and meet up with a friend who's bought a drink at another bar. But patrons would not be able to bring a drink purchased at one bar into a different bar.
Common consumption areas would be closed to motor traffic, have a safety and security plan approved by the city, and offer drinks in special cups with a vendor's name on them. These cups would have to be disposable and contain no more than 16 ounces of liquid.
Under the proposal, entertainment districts cannot be larger than 100 acres, but would have to contain no less than 20,000 square feet of liquor-licensed premises.
Applications for one-year licenses would cost $250 for the initial proposal and then $250 for each renewal. Public hearings would be held for each common consumption area application, during which members of the public and representatives from nearby schools and registered neighborhood organizations would be able to voice their opinions.
"People who don’t want this in their neighborhood need to know that it’s not coming to their neighborhood unless they want it," says Escudero.
Event organizers would also be allowed to apply for common consumption licenses that last up to fifteen days. At events with these licenses, people would be able to walk up and down an area and buy booze from existing establishments, rather than have to purchase alcohol brought in by outside vendors, which is what is required now.
In 2011, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill that authorized municipalities to start allowing for common consumption areas. Since then, cities such as Greeley, Black Hawk, Edgewater and Salida, among others, have passed common consumption area ordinances.