Some think it’s OK for wine, beer to be sold at se­nior cen­ter

The Herald Sun - - Front Page - BY DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN dvaughan@new­sob­

Two new restau­rants are ex­pected to open in the ground floor of a county-owned build­ing in down­town Durham, but lead­ers need to make an ex­cep­tion to al­low them to sell al­co­hol. Right now, al­co­hol sales are not al­lowed in prop­er­ties owned by the county.

Some county com­mis­sion­ers would like that to change — and not just for those restau­rants.

Durham County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing II, which re­cently re­opened af­ter be­ing ren­o­vated from the old court­house into new of­fices, has space for two restau­rants on East Main Street. The county is work­ing with The In­sti­tute to re­cruit mi­nor­ity-owned and women-owned busi­nesses to the space. Many restau­rants serve al­co­hol as well as food, hence the need for an ex­cep­tion.

Com­mis­sion­ers dis­cussed this week what other build­ings the county owns that also should be al­lowed to serve al­co­hol, such as the Cen­ter for Se­nior Life and the Durham County Sta­dium.

Not al­low­ing al­co­hol in county-owned build­ings “has been an is­sue for Se­nior Life,” said Com­mis­sion­ers Chair­woman Wendy Jacobs.

The Cen­ter for Se­nior Life on Rigs­bee Av­enue down­town is a non­profit with pro­gram­ming on week­days only. Jacobs said they should be able to rent it out on week­ends for events that may serve wine and beer.

County Man­ager Wen­dell Davis told Jacobs the ex­cep­tion for County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing II is about “ac­com­mo­dat­ing com­mer­cial clients across the street — restau­rants.”

Davis said the is­sue has come up be­fore about al­low­ing al­co­hol in other county-owned build­ings such as the Cen­ter for Se­nior Life.

“Cer­tain li­a­bil­ity con­cerns were raised, and we made a con­scious de­ci­sion not to go down that path,” he said. “It’s not a fair com­par­i­son: coun­ty­owned ver­sus lease ar­range-

ment for these en­ti­ties to pro­vide al­co­hol.”

Jacobs and Com­mis­sioner Ellen Reck­how said they’d like the pol­icy ex­am­ined.

“We co-own the con­ven­tion cen­ter with the city, and of course al­co­hol is served there,” Reck­how said. “The city owns DPAC, al­co­hol is served there.”

Reck­how said Se­nior Life events may have got­ten bet­ter at­ten­dance if wine and beer were al­lowed.

“I don’t see why we can’t look at it,” she said. Jacobs agreed. “Peo­ple are look­ing for af­ford­able places to have per­sonal events. It’s a beau­ti­ful fa­cil­ity, [but] closed and empty on the week­ends,” Jacobs said. “Peo­ple have been in­ter­ested in rent­ing the space.”

She said if the event is a wed­ding, not be­ing able to have beer and wine there is a bar­rier to rentals.

County At­tor­ney Low­ell Siler agreed to take an­other look at the pol­icy. He said the county has also got­ten re­quests for wine at fundrais­ing events at other county-owned build­ings, such as the Durham County Main Li­brary down­town.

Com­mis­sioner James Hill said Durham County Sta­dium is an­other place they could con­sider al­low­ing al­co­hol. He thinks the county lost host­ing a Cen­tral Intercollegiate Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion cham­pi­onship in part be­cause of not serv­ing beer. CIAA in­cludes sev­eral HBCUs.

County staff will re­port back to com­mis­sion­ers about the is­sue at a fu­ture meet­ing.

VIR­GINIA BRIDGES News & Ob­server file photo

Durham Cen­ter for Se­nior Life’s build­ing is owned by the county, and un­der cur­rent pol­icy can­not serve al­co­hol. Some com­mis­sion­ers think that the cen­ter could ben­e­fit from be­ing able to rent it out as an event space that can serve wine and beer at events like wed­dings.

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