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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fort Thomas Explores Possible Entertainment District

The Midway Business District is one area under consideration for an Entertainment District in Fort Thomas.

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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor

Discussions are underway for the creation of an Entertainment District – or Districts – within Fort Thomas. The city’s Law, Labor and License Committee is exploring the idea and carefully considering what it might entail.

"Right now, we are still in discussion, taking a look at what other cities are doing," said Council Member Connie Grubbs, chair of the committee.

The plan, if the committee moves forward, would be to draft an ordinance and have it ready for consideration by council in June. Since council has two meetings that month (due to the budget), the ordinance could have a first and second reading, and, if passed would have the Entertainment District in place by the end of June in time for summer business.

After the year we’ve had, city officials are eager to do whatever they can to support and boost local businesses.

What is an Entertainment District?

In 2018, the cost for a license to operate an Entertainment District in Kentucky was greatly reduced to allow more opportunity for cities to create a district and attract tourism dollars. 

In an Entertainment District, patrons within the designated area can purchase alcohol at participating businesses and then move freely within the district. People are provided with special cups for this purpose. The city sets the times and other parameters as it sees fit.

Both Covington and Bellevue have Entertainment Districts, and it may be under consideration in Newport. A city can have more than one district, but must obtain a separate license for each one. Currently, the cost is $2,577 per license, according to City Administrator Ron Dill

The City of Cincinnati also has a district at The Banks, known as DORA or Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.

Council member, Adam Blau said with his background in the restaurant industry and work on the Renaissance Board where he helped lead the city's Poker Runs, he has insight into how the city could utilize these districts. 

"It's great that we are able to see how these districts have been rolled out in other communities to see what's worked and what could potentially be improved," said Blau. "Obviously we want a welcoming environment for our businesses and to provide an area to our residents and guests that is hospitable, safe and fun, which I think we can accomplish."

Grubbs said the committee is considering putting two potential districts into the ordinance although they may only obtain one license for now. The Midway Business District along S. Fort Thomas Avenue from about Grassroots & Vine (1011) down to the Ft. Thomas Animal Hospital (1133), would be the first under consideration.

The Central Business District might be a future possibility. Grubbs said by putting it into the ordinance, it would allow businesses there to take the opportunity should they decide to do so in the future. That district would likely run along N. Fort Thomas Avenue from the city building to One Highland (the intersection of Highland to the intersection of Bluegrass). 

Making it easy for businesses

Participation in the entertainment district would be voluntary. The committee is looking at making signage available to businesses who do not want people entering their store with alcohol. 

For those who do want to participate, the committee members want to make it as easy as possible, said Grubbs. This is one reason they refrained from writing in any rules about specific times for the district so that businesses would not have the additional burden of enforcing restrictions.

Yet, she said, the idea is new, and if abuses were to happen, the city might have to revisit some of the ordinance. The committee also discussed the impact an Entertainment District could have on residents, but did not find an overlap between businesses and residencies within the areas under consideration.

Said Dill, "Our hope is that it’s another step taken to help our businesses and business districts to develop and grow coming out of the pandemic."

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