An item discussed during Greensboro’s City Council meeting on Tuesday sought to make downtown Greensboro a bit more fun than it already is. 

Introduced in March 2022, the BORO Social District is a part of town where customers can sip while they stroll, taking alcoholic beverages to and from participating local businesses in downtown Greensboro.

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, members discussed whether to extend the Downtown Social District parameters to include Center City Park and the Tanger Center, areas that had been carved out of the initial map.

Currently the district starts near Gate City Boulevard and runs up South Elm and Greene Streets, tucking in the Cultural Arts Center and LeBauer Park to the east. To the west, the district includes the area around the Marriott Hotel and ends at West Smith Street to the north.

During a council meeting on Dec. 6, Zack Matheny, Downtown Greensboro Inc. president and representative of District 3, which covers part of downtown, vehemently expressed his disapproval of efforts to expand the downtown Social District.

“As the downtown representative, I’m baffled that this would even be considered without a conversation with the representative for District 3, and, by the way, the manager of the downtown Social District,” he said.

Since joining council, Matheny has focused his efforts on Center City Park, an area that is often used by people experiencing homelessness. In October, council passed amendments that heavily regulate the use of public space and storage of personal belongings, measures that advocates said targeted the homeless community directly.

In previous council meetings, Matheny expressed concern about adding Center City Park to the Social District because of the homeless population but changed his tune in Tuesday’s session.

Zack Matheny

“I’d like to reiterate… there’s a specific way that this [original] map was collaboratively drawn with GPD and Downtown Greensboro Incorporated,” Matheny said, gesturing toward himself. “The intent of the Social District… was built upon the fabric of the North Carolina Retail Merchants [Association]…. There is no retail around Center City Park.”

He went on to say, “I have not had one person call me and ask me my opinion.”

Council member Sharon Hightower of District 1 recalled how she voted on the BORO Social District back in December 2021, saying, “I did vote no because I felt it was being very discriminatory when Center City Park was being left out, because a lot of homeless sit in the park…. And so now today I’m just wondering why the argument is so adamant about retail.”

The amendment was denied on Tuesday in an 8-1 vote, with council member Hugh Holston the sole member voting in favor.

During a Dec. 20 city council meeting, a few citizens voiced their concerns over how roving alcohol consumption might affect their businesses, specifically on State Street.

“In speaking to some of the retail owners in downtown Greensboro since the Social District started about nine months ago, they have noticed an increase in their business and they’ve noticed an increase in repeat business,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “…. I think we owe it to the business owners to give them an opportunity if this is a way to increase their business. And this is done on a voluntary basis; nobody is forced to be a part of the Social District.”

At-large council member Marikay Abuzuaiter called upon Assistant City Manager Trey Davis to confirm.

“This is not anything we can force a business to do, correct Mr. Davis?” she asked.

Davis responded, “Yes, you’re correct…. If a business is in the identified map area, then they can post signage to indicate that they don’t welcome people who are consuming alcohol inside their establishment.”

Council voted 5-3 to approve a Social District for State Street that is set to go into effect on April 1.

Bull City Ciderworks is located on State Street (file photo)

Council member Hightower expressed concerns during the Dec. 20 meeting that the Social District expansions might set a precedent in encouraging other areas of town to apply for Social District status, worried that more resources may need to be spent on public safety.

Greensboro police Chief John Thompson noted that there have been no reported incidents related to the Social District downtown.

Regulations for the Social District are as follows.

Beverage containers sold by locations are required to display the statement “Drink Responsibly — Be 21” in no less than 12-point font and cannot hold more than 16 fluid ounces or be made of glass. They must also clearly identify the permittee from which the alcoholic beverage was purchased and display a logo or some other mark that is unique to the Social District in which it is sold. Alcohol may be consumed while roaming approved areas from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., and consumers can’t take drinks into another bar or restaurant that serves alcohol. 

As the sole member in favor of extending the district, Holston remarked Tuesday evening that he’d still like to see Center City Park added at some point in the future.

“Whether it’s tonight or some other night in the future, I’m really excited about the Social District, really excited about Center City Park being a part of it as a place of respite,” he said.  “As a place where our residents can go and relax as they are Social District-ing. So again, if not tonight, some other time in the near future I would love to see the Center City Park as a part of the Social District.”

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