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Lakeland Commissioner Wants To Explore Allowing Public Drinking In Downtown

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Downtown area businesses are skeptical about a change to public drinking laws.

With new bars and restaraunts going up in Downtown Lakeland, one city commissioner thinks allowing people to walk the downtown streets with alcoholic beverages could be a boon for businesses.

Michael Dunn, a first-term commissioner on the Lakeland City Commission, told his fellow commissioners he thinks an ordinance to allow people to hop between Lakeland's downtown bars and restaurants could attract more customers to the area. 
 
"I don't think it hurts anything to have one more draw to the area to get folks to come spend their dollars there," Dunn said.

Downtown area businesses are skeptical about a change to public drinking laws.

Julie Townsend is the executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority and a transplant from New Orleans. She knows first-hand what open public drinking laws look like and said creating the type of environement you see in New Orleans or Savannah, Georgia won't be as easy as Dunn thinks it is.

"I am a born and raised, open container kind of gal, so for me this isn't a moral issue, just practical," she said. "The big issues for us in the downtown district are trash, police presence and, quite frankly, we are already an attractive location for the homeless."

Townsend sent out an email asking members of the Downtown Development Authority their opinions on Dunn's idea. She said business owners are concerned that allowing people to drink on the streets could strain public services, because it would require more frequent cleaning and a larger police presence to enforce the new ordinance. Drawing more homeless people to the downtown area is the largest concern for businesses, she said.

Dunn said he thinks any negative impacts from a change to the law could be mitigated. People would only be able to drink from cups that come from designated bars or resteraunts, he said. People would not be allowed to drink from cans and bottles brought from home.

"I think there are a lot of bugs to work out if you did go forward with this idea, but I certainly think its an idea worth pursuing," he said. "I don't want to force anything like this down anyone's throat. I just want to have that conversation."

So far, Dunn has not introduced an ordinance in the city commission and he said he is in no rush to do so.

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