A key element of the mayor's OBKY Project citizen advisory initiative was the installation of Owensboro's first entertainment destination center liquor license, and now, nearly two months since that license, dubbed "The District," was first implemented, officials are lauding its success.

In fact, Assistant City Manager Lelan Hancock says he's received reports from some downtown establishments who say liquor sales during Friday After 5 events when open alcoholic beverages are permitted have nearly doubled.

Roughly 85% of downtown establishments with city-regulated liquor licenses have signed on to participate in The District. Hancock said the remaining few maintain dining atmospheres unsuited for open containers.

Most importantly, though, Hancock added, is that laxer container laws during special events downtown have had no noticeable impact on public safety.

"We've had no major incidents whatsoever since Friday After 5 began using the license," he said. "Mostly everyone has been respectful of the rules and regulations and enjoyed beverages within the confines of The District."

Owensboro Police Department spokesman Andrew Boggess concurred. He said OPD "hasn't had any issues in the new downtown zone."

For many businesses, particularly those known to foster a more bar-like atmosphere downtown, The District was long overdue. As recently as last year, some city officials said an entertainment destination center was unlikely in Owensboro because of the unique set of restrictions state regulators attached to the law. But after consulting with Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control representatives, the city conceived of a plan that would make government the recipient of the license, which it would apply for special, city-sanctioned events.

Friday After 5 remains the only such event to have taken advantage of the license. The city opted not to use it during the All-American Fourth of July celebration on Independence Day.

Bar Louie General Manager Alex Barton says he wishes Owensboro had.

"This has been nothing but positive for our business," Barton said. "If I had anything negative to say about it, it would be that I wish the city would allow it more often. We have noticed an uptick of sales on Fridays, and, being as close to the river and the rest of the downtown area as we are, I think there are opportunities for more this to be used."

Barton said most of the customers who chose to exit the restaurant with green The District cups in tow say they're pleasantly surprised by the progressive new law.

"One of the things I tell people is that it's a wonderful time to live in Owensboro right now," he said. "It's good on the city for making this change. The fact that lawmakers were willing to think outside the box shows just how progressive Owensboro has become. The riverfront area is really building up, and I think this was a natural part of that development."

Fetta Specialty Pizza Co-Owner Shea McWherter said none of his patrons have complained about restrictions establishments have put in place, such as that which limits patrons from entering new license boundaries with drinks from other establishments. He had concerns, he admitted, that the new law might have a negative implication on the family-friendly atmosphere that events like Friday After 5 have fostered.

Instead, he said, open alcoholic beverage containers have gone over rather tepidly.

"I'll be honest, I hate that they're limiting it to just certain dates, but it is what it is," he said. "At this point, we can't see a huge increase in sales, but I think we will; it just takes time for the word to get out there and more people to understand that the green cups are an option for them."

Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, aramsey@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @austinrramsey

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