Aldermen approve liquor ordinance amendment

Strong drink remained the topic of the Rockford City Council Codes and Regulations Committee Aug. 7 meeting.

Staggering between potent arguments from the Downtown Retailers’ Collective (DRC) and On The Waterfront (OTW), the committee bellied up to a proposed amendment to the city’s liquor code.

The amendment allows people to carry open alcohol—in approved containers—between some downtown establishments on the OTW site.

Committee members unanimously approved the amendment after a last-minute change was made.

City Attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia said aldermen requested language requiring anyone participating in OTW add OTW to their respective insurance policy as an additional insured parties.

The Council then voted 12-1 to approve the committee report and ordinance, with Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) casting “no” votes both times.

“We should not, as a city, be allowing the sale of alcohol on public grounds,” Beach said, as a long-time opponent to almost all pro-liquor motions.

He noted Rockford has among the highest truancy and crime rates in the state. Beach said the city isn’t being much of a role model: “I don’t think we’re setting a good example for the kids of Rockford.”

Ald. Leonard Jacobson (D-6), who noted he’d chaired the first OTW committee, hoisted his support behind the amendment: “These business owners need a little bit of a break.” Jacobson said they’ve spent their time and money to make the downtown viable.

Other supporters and opponents offered observations about the amendment during public participation. Jerry Kortman of J.R. Kortman Center for Design said the previous ordinance had him “on pins and needles.” Kortman said he was always concerned whether he’d be shut down. “I would hope you would pass this ordinance as it has been written,” he said.

OTW Board Chairman Kim Casey said her organization’s efforts “come with substantial risk.” Casey said the organization’s budget is already fragile, given how uncontrollable things like weather can adversely affect the bottom line.

Rockford resident Chad Leber said he remembered a time when people didn’t want to venture into downtown. Leber said business owners saw an opportunity and helped bring people back. But he said business owners struggle, and the restriction would make them struggle even more.

Leber said the amendment would change the atmosphere during OTW: “It would truly bring more of a festival feel.”

According to Leber, the whole meaning of OTW is to showcase downtown Rockford. He said the amendment would set up downtown to receive long-term tourist dollars. Rockford Office Supply owner Curt Scribner made it clear the amendment wouldn’t affect him either way: “Obviously, we don’t sell alcohol.”

While Scribner noted OTW adversely affects his business for a few days, he stressed its importance: “I just wanted everyone to believe (OTW) is a great thing for our community,” he said.

Paul Sletten, owner of Brio Restaurant, Wine Bar and Patio, said the DRC is happy with the outcome: “Now we can help to make OTW a better festival for retailers, festival-goers and organizers. We are really proud of the aldermen, and as Damien Hunter said at the Council meeting, ‘Let’s have Rockford be the first instead of the last to do something.’”

From the Aug. 9-15, 2006, issue

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