Sip and Stroll: Durham City Council Approves Downtown Social District

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DDI branded the downtown social district as “The Bullpen.”

Downtown Durham Inc. and city staff proposed the implementation of a downtown social district to Durham City Council, which voted unanimously on Monday evening in favor of its creation. This allows for open containers in specifically-branded cups purchased from participating bars and restaurants in designated boundaries, which at present includes most of downtown, extending from Golden Belt Campus to Duke University’s East Campus and from the Historic Durham Athletic Park to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The district would run seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and could start as early as Dec. 1. Close to 20 North Carolina cities currently have approved social districts, including Raleigh and Greensboro.

“Social districts are a great tool for encouraging additional foot traffic downtown, and that leads to more visits to our small, locally owned retailers,” says DDI’s Nicole Thompson. “At less than a square mile, our downtown is very walkable, but a social district gives folks even more incentive to stay awhile, stroll around downtown and find places they haven’t visited before.”

COPA co-owner Elizabeth Turnbull says she thinks the social district would positively benefit downtown establishments and help increase business. She says COPA plans to participate.

Amber Watson, Juyoung Shin and Joy Caracciolo take turns snapping the best photo of Alley Twenty Six’s Mexican Herbalist cocktail with jalapeño-hibiscus-infused tequila, ginger, honey and lime during a Thursday evening Small Plates Crawl.

Alley Twenty Six owner Shannon Healy says he also would happily participate in the initiative. “I like the idea of things we can do as a community,” Shannon says. “… I’m hopeful we can do it right.”

Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker, owners of Kingfisher, Queeny’s and QueenBurger, are already working on branded cups for their businesses with an intention to launch cocktails to-go from Queeny’s street-facing window.

Next steps involve hammering out a management plan for the social district. It is anticipated that DDI will be named to serve as the city’s designee to oversee the program. According to city documents, this includes development and implementation of marketing, education and communication plans for the public and businesses; creating and covering expenses for district signage; making a publicly available list of participating and nonparticipating businesses; maintaining litter standards and responsibilities; and serving as liaison between businesses and the city. City staff will present that proposal to council at the next work session on Oct. 20, with a final vote tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7.

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