Anoka bringing back alcohol 'social district' next month

Last fall, the City of Anoka took a one-month run at something never done in Minnesota: Open consumption of alcohol within a defined boundary in its downtown.

"For Anoka, it’s something unique and it brings people downtown, it gives just something different, it’s out of the box," said Anoka Community Development Director Doug Borglund.

"We like to do things. We have a pumpkin roundabout, so why not!"

It went so well that Anoka is trying it again, but this time for five months, beginning May 1 and running through October 6.

"I think people know it’s a privilege and people respected that," noted Borglund. "And those who came out and participated last year had a good time."

Anoka’s "social district" is a defined area of downtown businesses and the Riverfront Park.   It allows customers to take beer, wine and cocktails to go and consume them as they stroll through downtown or into the park for concerts.

"I was skeptical at first," said Anoka resident Lindsey Belanger, saying she wasn’t the only one concerned it could get out of hand.  But it didn’t.

"I think it went excellent," she told FOX 9.  There were some complaints like not enough recycling bins for all the plastic to-go cups and maybe not enough porta-potties, she said, but those were fairly minor issues.

"But for the most part, I think everybody was respectful and liked the whole idea of being able to a beer out and go walking down by the river."

The rules allow you to take drinks out of bars and restaurants, but you can’t take them into other bars and restaurants.  You can take them into other businesses that allow them, and there are window stickers to tell which ones are ok with it and which are not.

Brandon Stott, a manager at 201 Tavern and Grill, said the main thing is educating customers on the rules, but the businesses like it.

"Oh no, it works," said Stott. "Especially now that they’re building a new stage in the park for music and bands, so no, it definitely works out."

Anoka received special permission from the state legislature to run this pilot project with the idea their experience would inform a comprehensive statewide program. And judging by Anoka’s response from other cities, there is a lot of interest.

"Oh, we’ve heard from quite a few," noted Borglund, saying their Chamber has "probably heard from just about every Chamber of Commerce in the state wondering how did you guys do this? And how can we do it?"