Sturgeon Bay Creates Public Alcohol Consumption Area

Otherwise known as the Walking Area Entertainment Zone

The public-health crisis of COVID-19 is of grave concern. So is the economic well-being of the community and the intrinsic value of belonging to a community that allows social connections to be made in public spaces.

The wording above is from a resolution that the Sturgeon Bay Common Council passed last week to create a Public Alcohol Consumption Area in downtown Sturgeon Bay. According to the resolution, the area would prevent congregating and the potential spread of COVID-19, plus encourage a positive dining experience by allowing the public consumption of alcohol as people walk on city streets while waiting for a restaurant table.

The creation of the district required a conditional suspension of the city’s current ordinance, which prohibits drinking alcohol in public. The suspension lasts until Dec. 31, but it will be reviewed after four weeks, according to the motion the council passed. All beverages within the district must be purchased in nonresealable, nonbreakable containers such as metal, paper or plastic.

Sturgeon Bay’s new Walking Area Entertainment Zone – where drinking alcohol is now allowed – is shown in the shaded area above. The temporary zone will last until Dec. 31 but will be reviewed in four weeks. Source: City of Sturgeon Bay.

Other Door County municipalities such as the Villages of Egg Harbor and Sister Bay allow for the open carry of alcohol. In Egg Harbor, people may carry beer, wine and liquor year-round, as long as the liquor isn’t a mixed drink that’s been purchased at a bar or restaurant and taken off the property. In Sister Bay, there is no ordinance that specifically allows people to carry intoxicants, but the village permits it because it finds it’s not abused, said Village Administrator Beau Bernhoft.   

The concept of creating a large area in downtown Sturgeon Bay where people could drink alcohol in public spent time in the Community Protection and Services Committee before that committee passed it on to the council with a recommendation for approval. The intent was to include most of the downtown walking areas, such as the four marinas, a couple of parks and Stone Harbor.

“We really tried to make this the Walking Area Entertainment District,” said District 3 Alder Dan Williams, who chairs the city’s Community Protection and Services Committee.

The district promotes a walkable Sturgeon Bay, where little driving is needed, he said. The timing also worked with Sturgeon Bay’s new Under the Stars Night Market on Saturdays, 5-9 pm, “which has been very successful,” Williams said. 

The Community Protection and Services Committee learned during the process of creating the district that throughout the years, the city has been in violation of its own ordinance when it has allowed public drinking during downtown events, Williams said. 

“So this clears that up because almost all of those events take place in this district being created,” he said.

District 4 Alder J. Spencer Gustafson said he was the one who brought the idea forward after several business owners had asked for it. There are many people who don’t want to go into a restaurant right now, he said, so they could take a meal down to the water with a beverage.

“I’m hoping this increases business in some way,” he said.

District 2 Alder David Hayes was the only one who voted against the idea.

“I think we’re encouraging public drinking in parks, and that’s the overarching concern I have,” Hayes said.

Williams said the parks were discussed during the committee’s review of the district, and the committee members heard that it was important to include them. 

“We found over the last two weekends that almost every restaurant has had over an hour wait,” Williams said. “This way, [diners] can have a cocktail, stroll down to the end of the spur and come back for their reservation.”