LAKELAND, Fla.-- Lakeland commissioner wants people to be able to drink beer on sidewalks in downtown.

  • Commisioner pushes for public drinking downtown
  • Believes it's better for businesses
  • City will discuss topic late Summer

In his first term of office, Lakeland Commissioner Michael Dunn said one of his priorities is changing the city's public consumption of alcoholic beverages ordinance to allow people to drink those beverages on public property in the city's downtown area.

"During the campaign season, this was something brought up by folks that liked to come downtown as an issue for them. I grabbed it because I think it's a reasonable request," said Commissioner Michael Dunn.

He believes it will help England native Stuart Simm, who just opened "The Federal Bar" on May 19.

"There's going to be four or five new restaurants and bars down here in a year. So it's really an exciting time," said Stuart Simm.

Simm said he liked the idea of changing the ordinance. He believes it would make it easier for people to bar hop and prevent people in groups from having to guzzle their drinks when the others are ready to leave.

"With this, it's very good economically, it's actually more responsible than what we do now and I think it'd be a good direction for Lakeland," Simm said.

Julie Townsend, the Executive Director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, has reservations.

"I am from New Orleans so I get the whole open container and wanting to have that sort of festive atmosphere but I think there are a lot of unintended consequences that we haven't really thought through," said Julie Townsend. 

"Already in the past we had a problem with the homeless population digging through trash cans looking for half finished beers."  

Townsend believes changing the public consumption of alcoholic beverages ordinance would lead to more human waste and trash downtown and she said right now, there isn't a daily dedicated crew to clean up the mess.

"I don't see there being a financial benefit to the restaurants… and the bars that outweighs the cost of dealing with the externalities and the aftermath of all that," Townsend explained.  

Kevin Cook, Lakeland's spokesman, said in order for the issue to move forward, it would need the support of the commission.

Commissioner Justin Troller said he "looks forward to the conversation and learning how other successful downtowns handle the issue."

Commissioner Bill Read said he supports allowing public consumption of alcoholic beverages on public property for special events but he's not convinced it’s a good idea to allow it on a daily basis.  He fears it could create more problems for the police department and he's unaware of what advantages it would create for the city. He said he would remain open-minded.

Cook said the topic is set to be discussed during a future policy review meeting, which he expects to take place late summer, early fall.

Current city ordinance says anyone caught drinking alcohol on public property  could be put in jail for up to 60 days  or be fined  up to $500 or a combination of both.  ​