Decision time nears for vote

Katherine Martin

The city of Tuscaloosa will vote for seven-day sales of alcohol on Feb. 22, a vote that has been 10 years in the making, Tracy Croom, city clerk, said.

Although the board of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama has not taken a position on the referendum, Executive Director Terry Waters has long supported providing residents of Tuscaloosa with the opportunity to vote on this proposal.

“Our chamber worked very hard in helping to make this referendum possible,” Waters said, “but our board has decided not to take an official position either for or against this referendum.”

The votes will be counted and certified on March 1, Croom said. If the vote is yes and certified, all businesses can sell alcohol between noon and 9:30 p.m. Sunday without any exceptions.

Waters said the March 1 ballot will read as follows: Do you favor the legal sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages within this municipality on Sunday between 12 p.m. (noon) and 9:30 p.m. and on those Sundays on which occurs New Years Eve (Dec. 31) after 12 p.m. (noon). Yes or no.

“Only the time periods that alcoholic beverages can be sold appears to me to be the only limitations in this referendum,” Waters said.

Lee Garrison, a member of the Tuscaloosa city council, said seven-day sales is an economic issue for him.

“Alcohol is a legal product,” he said. “In Tuscaloosa, it is not illegal to possess it or consume it any day of the week. The issue is that you cannot purchase it on certain hours on Sunday.”

Passing seven-day sales will place Tuscaloosa on a level playing field when it comes to conventions, tourism, recruiting new restaurants, touring concerts and many other opportunities, Garrison said.

Cynthia Lee Almond, another member of the Tuscaloosa city council, agreed with Garrison that the city will benefit from increased numbers of restaurants and visitors, which translates into tax dollars, with the passing of the referendum.

“There is no question that that some larger restaurant chains do not locate here because we do not have seven-day sales,” Almond said. “The tourism industry tells us that tourism will increase and more … dollars will be created with seven-day sales.”

As a city council member, Almond said she felt the upcoming vote was an important issue to allow Tuscaloosa citizens to vote on and to determine the outcome.

“Like most changes, being able to sell alcohol seven days a week will undoubtedly have both positive and negative consequences,” she said. “It is a personal decision and I encourage all citizens of the City of Tuscaloosa to vote on the 22nd.”

Councilman Bob Lundell said he supports the referendum for seven-day sales.

“Currently, when business visitors arrive at the airport in Birmingham on Sunday, they dine and sleep there because they cannot relax with a glass of wine with dinner in Tuscaloosa,” Lundell said. “Our restaurants and hotels lose this business. We also lose a number of conventions that normally begin on Sundays.”

Craig Williams, general manager of Buffalo Phil’s, said the upcoming vote is huge for the city.

“Tourism- and convention-wise, I think it’s going to bring a lot to the city,” Williams said. “ I think there are no negatives that could come out of it.”

Williams said events that fall on Sundays, like the Super Bowl, the Fourth of July and New Years Eve, would bring more business for the entire city.

“I’m not saying it’s going to jump us from nothing to phenomenal, but I think it’s going to bring in a little bit extra,” Williams said.

Right now, he said, people who are watching football and other sports on Sundays are staying home and grilling out. If the vote passes, they’re more likely to come spend money at restaurants and bars.

“Everybody’s drinking on Sunday already,” Williams said. “If you’re wanting to drink on Sunday, you’re doing it. You’re either driving to Birmingham or you’re picking up alcohol at 1:45 in the morning Saturday.”

Garrison said Tuscaloosa is lacking compared to other cities.

“Tuscaloosa is the largest city in the state without seven-day sales and it truly is holding back our potential,” Garrison said. “Even Auburn has seven-day sales, enough said.”