St. Patrick’s Day, wristbands, and public space in Savannah

In the second half of my City Talk column this past Sunday, I go on a bit of a rant about the proposal by city of Savannah officials and the waterfront association to charge $5 for wristbands that would allow drinking in an expanded party zone after 5 p.m. over the long St. Patrick’s Day weekend in 2013.

There are just a couple of comments on that column online, and — surprisingly — I didn’t get any feedback at all in my email inbox.

Wristbands were tried for a number of years on River Street but were discontinued just last year. Now the plan is not only to require wristbands again to drink on River Street, but also for a broad swath of downtown extending up to Bay Street and as far south as — and including — Broughton Street between Drayton and MLK.

It’s an idea fraught with problems.

In the column, I say in part:

First, keep in mind that those of us who frequent downtown bars and clubs can drink on the street any night of the week. Charging us to do something that we can legally do year-round will discourage us from going into the festival zone at all. [. . .]

And we should want to have older regulars among the visiting partiers. This is not rocket science. The more the crowd skews toward young people from out of town, the wilder the partying will be.

[. . .] More importantly, an expansion of the party zone requires more ID checkpoints for wristband sales. Those will eat up countless hours of security personnel and potentially create choke points.

When lines develop, there will inevitably be frustrations and altercations.

The proposed festival zone also includes a significant number of hotels and residences.

If the folks manning the checkpoints are overly aggressive, residents and hotel guests will repeatedly have to explain why they aren’t buying wristbands. Ditto for their visitors and for others who don’t plan on drinking outdoors.

Some folks will enter the zone with plans to drink only inside, not outside. But then they will end up feeling trapped and adding to the congestion in an overly crowded bar.

And keep in mind too that the downtown public spaces near Ellis Square and along River Street have thousands of revelers by mid-afternoon every day of the festival weekend. So at 5 p.m., how are all of those people going to know that they need to buy wristbands? How’s that going to go, when police start telling dozens of people to quit drinking right then and go buy wristbands?

How many stations will there be to buy the bands? Anything less than a dozen would be hugely problematic.

What happens to someone who casually walks into the zone with a cup in hand, unaware of the ordinance?

We’re just setting up a situation for a PR nightmare for the city, as behavior that is legal every other day of the year is arbitrarily criminalized.

It’s going to be bad for business, bad for law enforcement, and bad for the city’s image. It will look like a money grab. It will simultaneously make the festival seem too permissive by encouraging a harder-partying crowd and at the same time too restrictive by creating hassles for law-abiding citizens.