Vote ends Jack­sonville, Sher­wood no-al­co­hol-by-drink ar­eas

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - JAKE SANDLIN

Vot­ers in the for­mer Gray Town­ship that in­cludes Jack­sonville and part of Sher­wood ap­proved al­low­ing the sale of al­co­hol by the drink in a special elec­tion Tues­day, open­ing up the abil­ity to at­tract restau­rants that want to serve al­co­hol.

Over­turn­ing the 60-yearold al­co­hol ban in the now-de­funct Gray Town­ship af­fects the ma­jor­ity of Jack­sonville and the por­tion of Sher­wood north of Mary­land Av­enue. Ap­proval failed by one vote, un­of­fi­cially, in a small por­tion of un­in­cor­po­rated Pu­laski County that also was in­cluded. Each area held sep­a­rate votes.

Un­of­fi­cial re­sults, with all 22 precincts re­port­ing, to al­low the sale of al­co­holic bev­er­ages for on-premises con­sump­tion were:

Gray 1954 (Jack­sonville) For ................................... 993 Against ............................. 179

Gray 1956 (Sher­wood) For ..................................... 645 Against .............................. 151

Precinct 614 (County) For ...................................... 42 Against ............................... 43

The al­co­hol ban was put into ef­fect dur­ing the 1950s when Gray Town­ship vot­ers ap­proved the re­stric­tion. The Gray Town­ship ban stood even though many such vot­ing dis­tricts were abol­ished across Pu­laski County in the 1980s.

At a small elec­tion watch party Tues­day night in Jack­sonville, Mayor Gary Fletcher kept watch­ing his cell­phone for texts from poll work­ers with precinct re­sults, writ­ing down and adding a run­ning to­tal on a notepad. The eve-

ning started off very pos­i­tive when early-vot­ing to­tals came in with 324 votes for al­co­hol sales, and only 55 against.

“Early-vot­ing re­sults are gen­er­ally an in­di­ca­tor of the tempo for the night,” Fletcher said. “We felt very com­fort­able we were go­ing to win.”

Fletcher has said that hav­ing most of Jack­sonville be dry has kept many na­tional chain restau­rants from want­ing to lo­cate in the city, even with Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base there.

“We try to sell the city, ob­vi­ously,” Fletcher said of pitches made to re­tail and res­tau­rant fran­chises. “We have the big­gest eco­nomic stim­u­lus here with the Lit­tle Rock Air Force Base. Our ob­jec­tive is to keep ser­vices here so our cit­i­zens will stay here and sup­port the qual­ity of life here, rather than go down the road to other ci­ties. So this is re­ally huge.”

Mar­cia Cook, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the Sher­wood Cham­ber of Com­merce, said that be­ing able to have her en­tire city al­low the sale of al­co­hol by the drink “opens a lot of doors” for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

“Our eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment will re­ally im­prove be­cause of the op­por­tu­ni­ties out there,” Cook said. “It’s strange that part of Sher­wood is wet and the other part is dry. So this will cre­ate more of an even play­ing field. The north­ern part of Sher­wood will at least be able al­low restau­rants to come in and be able to of­fer al­co­hol.”

Robert Price, who is head­ing a down­town re­de­vel­op­ment ef­fort in Jack­sonville and headed the city’s elec­tion cam­paign, said hav­ing the abil­ity to sale al­co­hol by the drink on premises is the first of 13 ob­jec­tives for re­de­vel­op­ing the city.

“The real ben­e­fit of drinkby-the-glass is not just to at­tract restau­rants,” Price said. “There’s a rip­ple ef­fect from the stand­point of eco­nomic growth. Deal­ers will sell more cars, prop­erty val­ues will go up. That’s the real ben­e­fit of it.”

With the pas­sage of Act 144 in the most re­cent leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the abil­ity for ci­ties to do away with dry sec­tions be­came more fea­si­ble. The act, co-spon­sored by state Rep. Bob John­son, D-Jack­sonville, al­lows city coun­cils to call elec­tions on al­co­hol laws

Pre­vi­ously, state law re­quired pe­ti­tion­ers to gather sig­na­tures from 15 per­cent of the elec­torate in order to hold a special elec­tion re­lated to al­co­hol con­sump­tion. Ef­forts to reach the re­quired sig­na­tures within the old Gray Town­ship failed in both 2013 and 2015.

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