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Pastor, doctor speak about opposition to entertainment district proposal

by Joshua Turner | March 25, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Councilman Jamie Waller talks about compromises made in a proposed entertainment district ordinance. (Joshua Turner / Banner News)

The first of three readings of a revised entertainment district ordinance was read Thursday during a meeting of the Magnolia City Council.

The ordinance was modified on Feb. 27 after concerns about the times and days that it would be active were raised by council members.

Modifying the ordinance restarted the reading and approval process. The proposal was first brought before the Council last August, and a draft ordinance was read during the body's January meeting and again in February.

The original draft of the ordinance would have allowed people within the entertainment district's boundaries to drink alcohol from branded cups while the district was active. It allowed the district to be active Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. The revisions changed the days to Thursday-Friday from 5-10 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.

Mayor Parnell Vann said in January he would not approve any exceptions to the district for Sundays and in February expanded his reservations.

"No Wednesdays, no Sundays, period. A lot of us do Bible study on Wednesday and we all go to church on Sunday and if we don't, we should," Vann said in February.

Ward 3 Council member Jamie Waller said during the February meeting, "I think we've all received some feedback and that was the whole point. That's how the City Council ... and the mayor want to put it. That's our whole goal... We all want to receive the feedback that we need to make the best decision that we can for this city. I think all of us have had some feedback on both sides... I think there's probably some room to change the times and maybe ease into this a little bit more, if that's the route we want to go."

Multiple members of the council said that they would like to avoid having the entertainment district open while the churches downtown have daycare, which runs until 5:30 p.m.

Ward 3 Council member Steve Nipper said, "I've had some good feedback from people who think that Thursday, Friday, Saturday might be when we might have a better chance to get some entertainment on the square."

Nipper also voiced concerns in February over whether trash would be the responsibility of store owners or patrons.

At Thursday's meeting, Dr. Rodney Griffin was on the Council's agenda to speak out against the ordinance.

Griffin is a physician at Southern Medical Group and has served on the Arkansas State Medical Board since 2015. He said diseases like liver, esophageal, colon and pancreatic cancer, cirrhosis and diabetes can all be worsened by drinking alcohol.

Griffin said, "I've got patients that cannot drink... They shouldn't, but they sometimes do... In the last two months, I have diagnosed two people with esophageal cancer. This is a very dangerous cancer. It's very rare. I have seen none in my 47 years (as a physician) prior to this... I feel that alcohol consumption has something to do with it."

Mike Seabaugh, Pastor at Central Baptist Church of Magnolia, also spoke. He first thanked others who had spoken out against the proposed entertainment district before detailing his reasons for opposing it as well.

"I do not share the radical and intrusive vision that the city council will be casting for our town," he said.

Seabaugh went on to explain that public alcohol consumption has been looked at negatively throughout history, that alcohol is addictive and that in his opinion Magnolia needs to protect its citizens and those predisposed to alcohol from it.

He also claimed, "We were promised at the time that we sold this property to the city that we would not have alcohol in the Square Park and had we known this was going to happen, we would not have sold that piece of property."

The Square Park was built on two properties the city acquired. The first property was donated to the Magnolia Economic Development Committee by Albert H. Cooper in October of 2017.

Development began in August 2018, funded by businesses and private citizens as well as $50,000 from the Advertising and Promotion Commission.

In October 2018, the city purchased the second property for $25,000 from Central Baptist Church, which is currently being used for parking. The warranty deed for the property does not contain anything promising that alcohol would not be allowed in Square Park.

Mayor Parnell Vann said that according to his knowledge, no such deal was made by himself or Cammie Hambrice who was the Magnolia Economic Development Director in 2018.

"I called Cammie three weeks ago and asked her if she knew promises were made when we purchased the property and she said no," said Vann.

Vann did say that he had agreed to make sure that events would not be hosted in Square Park on Wednesdays and Sundays, but other than that, no deals were made.

Seabaugh couldn't be reached by press-time Friday to respond to Vann's denial of a no-alcohol deal.

Seabaugh ended his statement at the Monday meeting saying, "Instead of trying to make Magnolia a place that people want to visit, let's make it a place where people want to live... You can buy alcohol in the store. You can have it in your refrigerator. You can drink alcohol in your home. You can order it in your restaurant. We don't want alcohol in our street and we certainly don't want it consumed in front of our children."

Following Seabaugh's speech, Vann said, "Other than just the comments that I've heard in the streets over the last months, I'm going to ask you tonight, let's put this either ahead of us or behind us."

Waller said he felt the proposal was a good compromise that took into account the feelings of people for and against the entertainment district.

Waller said, "I respect everyone's opinion. I appreciate the concerns, the thoughts that we're hearing as council members. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we're getting hit from both sides," he said. "At the end of the day, we have to be able to compromise. I feel like that's what this this ordinance is. It's not everything that was presented. It's not everything that the opposition wants either. It's very limited in nature to try this and see if we can generate some... much-needed business on the square."

Vann asked if there would be a motion to have the second reading at that time.

Souter motioned with a second from Waller.

Ward 1 Council member Kelli Souter, Waller and Ward 2 Council member James Jefferson all voted for while the rest of the council including Ward 4 Council member Jeff White, Nipper, Ward 2 Council member Tia Wesson, Ward 4 Council member and Ward 1 Council member David Sisson voted against a second reading that meeting.

Since the motion failed, the ordinance may have a second reading at the next meeting currently planned for April 24 at 5 p.m.

photo Dr. Rodney Griffin speaks to the City Council about why he is against the entertainment district. (Joshua Turner / Banner News)
photo Central Baptist Church Pastor Mike Sebaugh talks about the issues he sees with a proposed entertainment district in downtown Magnolia. (Joshua Turner / Banner News)

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