PALMETTO -- It was a split decision by the Palmetto City Commission last month to allow alcohol to be sold from city property for this year's Fourth of July festivities, but the familiar alcohol tents will be at Sutton Park, where most of the festivities take place.
The city recently passed a new alcohol ordinance designed to attract businesses into the commercial district. The ordinance was also an attempt to tighten the city's open container laws.
The Fourth of July celebration will be the police department's first major test in enforcing the new ordinances that were successfully restricted by Ward 1 Commissioner Charles Smith, who eliminated wording to limit confrontations between citizens and police officers.
Under the initial proposed ordinance, police officers could inspect the cup of anyone carrying one on public property to ensure alcohol was not being consumed. But the ordinance now in effect restricts officers from approaching citizens based solely on an unmarked cup. While drinking within the festival boundaries will be allowed for the community event, taking those drinks off of park grounds en route to other locations, including fireworks spectator viewing areas, will not be allowed.
Sutton Park will be the only location for city-approved alcohol sales, which will be operated by the Palmetto Rotary Club as a fundraiser.
Palmetto Deputy Chief Scott Tyler said there is plenty of room at the festival location for people to enjoy their beverages and, of course, private businesses will conduct business as usual in terms of alcohol sales, "but no one will be allowed to carry alcohol outside of those areas."
Police Chief Rick Wells has said that the language eliminating unmarked cups as a probable cause won't change the way his officers approach the open container laws, and Tyler said he doesn't anticipate any major law enforcement concerns.
"It's a matter of public education, and most people will follow the rules anyway," said Tyler. "We've been talking with our officers about how to handle these situations, and they are trained to recognize probable cause situations."
If someone does attempt to take alcohol away from the festival to other sections of public property, Tyler said they will most likely be asked to dump it out.
"We want everyone to have fun, but to do it safely and responsibly," said Tyler.
In Bradenton, officials said drinking alcohol is not allowed on the Riverwalk, where many will gather to watch fireworks launched from the Palmetto side of the Manatee River.
Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the whole concept of the Fourth of July festival is to showcase the city.
"We want people to come see what the city is like and showcase our businesses, which is why they can set up at the festival for free," she said. "We like to show off everything the city has to offer."
Tyler said no coolers will be allowed at the festivities, and anyone seen carrying one will be asked to return it to their vehicle. Umbrellas also are not allowed, because of safety concerns. Other than that, he suggested that people use common sense in locking their vehicles, do not leave valuables showing inside vehicles and ensure children are supervised at all times.
Canned food donation sites will be set up at the festival, and Bryant encourages everyone to participate in the city's Mayor's Need to Feed program by donating items as they come to the festivities. The food will be given to the Manatee County Food Bank for distribution to the hungry.
The festival opens up at 1 p.m., according to festival coordinator Jenny Silverio. A kids zone is available for a $5 wristband, which is good for the entire day, and there are 28 vendors that will be at the park, including 18 food vendors.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.