City Council passes entertainment district ordinance

Councilmember Jamie Waller addresses the public. (Joshua Turner / Banner-News)
Councilmember Jamie Waller addresses the public. (Joshua Turner / Banner-News)

The Magnolia City Council passed an ordinance establishing an Entertainment District in downtown Magnolia during their regular meeting Monday evening.

Local residents had the chance to speak first. Larry Talley, Elvis Griffin, Devin Keith and Jeffrey Cheatham spoke against the ordinance, while Kimberly Jones spoke in favor of it. 

Following public comment , Mayor Parnell Vann said, “I have, for the last five months, listened to public comment. I’ve heard things like greed. I read things like ‘follow the money,’ ‘under the table deals’ and the one that troubles me a lot, ‘some members of this council can’t be trusted.'"

Vann outlined how the city's taxes break down, expressed support for members of the City Council and said he is always open to discussion about city decisions, while expressing disappointment that local residents have said they felt they weren't heard. 

"I hold town halls and public forums Monday through Friday from 8 to 5. You’re always welcome," he said. "Everyone up here works for you. I talked to a wonderful lady on Friday for 58 minutes and 27 seconds. I said, why has nobody come to see me or call me? She said they feel intimidated. I can’t imagine that. There’s no reason for that. I work for you. Love me or hate me. I still love you. We’ll get through this too.”

After Vann's comments, the ordinance was read for the third time. 

City Councilmember Jamie Waller said, “We’ve had a lot of discussion on this and we’ve heard from both sides and, you know, I love seeing the room full. I wish we could have this every council meeting and I wish we received feedback on everything we do because we genuinely listen to you, as can be seen by the fact that we have adjusted this ordinance based on feedback that we received."

The ordinance, which was originally proposed by Ellie Baker, executive director of economic development for the city, allows businesses with a license to serve alcohol to patrons in a regulated cup, which may be carried throughout the district and into any businesses participating in the district.

Baker said she believes entertainment districts help to make downtown feel more hospitable to visitors. Magnolia Police Chief Todd Dew also previously expressed support for the idea, saying that he plans to station more officers on the square and potentially add extra surveillance to the area.

The original draft of the ordinance was read and discussed at the January city council meeting, where it was met with some opposition. Some residents expressed concerns about increased noise and litter, as well as the potential for increased crime. A revision was made in February addressing some of the concerns.

The revised ordinance changes the hours of operation for the entertainment district. The original draft would have allowed the district to be active Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. The revised ordinance limits the hours of operation to Thursday-Friday from 5-10 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.

Special exceptions to the times can be made by getting a proposal for the exception approved by Vann and Dew, though Vann said that he will not be making exceptions for Sundays.

Despite the allowance for alcohol, public intoxication will still be illegal and holds a fine of $150 for the first offense of public intoxication and up to $1,000 for the fourth time.

Councilmembers Kelli Souter, Jeff White, Jamie Waller, James Jefferson and Steve Nipper voted to approve the ordinance and Tia Wesson, David Sisson and Beau Pettit voted against it.

According to City Attorney Jennifer McKendree, the ordinance will not go into effect until 31 days have passed since it is publicized.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 19 at 5 p.m.