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City of Spokane evaluates beer gardens at festivals

When it comes to brews in the streets, Spokane city officials generally have said no – law enforcement has deemed it too risky.

But that will change as the city allows small event and festival organizers to operate beer gardens as a way to boost their appeal and economic impact, said Jan Quintrall, director of business and development services for the city.

Considering the prevalence of microbreweries and wine cellars in the area and a rise in requests from neighborhood organizers, she said, it makes sense to allow the gardens.

Quintrall said the gardens, unlike bars and restaurants that sometimes report alcohol-related incidents, are not the lone destination for festival attendees.

“It’s really just part of the experience of the festival,” she said. “I suggested the pilot program to test out on a small scale and see if any of these things that are so scary happen.”

Though no law prohibits organizers from serving alcohol on a public right of way, they have traditionally been denied as part of the special event permit process because of public safety concerns – even when organizers have obtained a permit from the Washington Liquor Control Board.

Terrain Spokane, a nonprofit that promotes local art and music, hosted the first beer garden under the city’s test program last month at its Bazaar art festival. Luke Baumgarten, one of the festival’s organizers, said Bazaar “went off without a hitch from our perspective.”

He said alcohol sales and a family-friendly atmosphere can coexist, and anytime government regulates instead of prohibits, it creates a more inclusive environment for all.

“We’re really starting to come around to this idea of using our public spaces as assets,” Baumgarten said. “I think it will really be good in the long term for Spokane.”

The city will assess the success, and also the hazards, of the gardens after each event and provide the City Council with a long-term policy recommendation by next summer.

It also will limit the number of permits at a certain time if law enforcement becomes too strained, according to officials. The guidelines set the gardens, which can only sell beer and wine, at a capacity of 50 people or fewer and require them to close at 10 p.m.


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