SIPPING IN SOUTHLANDS: New entertainment district could allow legal public drinking during special events at the shopping center

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AURORA | Fans of naughty water in south Aurora may be able to legally and publicly imbibe at the Southlands Shopping Center during special events this summer if a proposed special district for the area is approved by the full city council.

A new entertainment district, proposed to encompass much of the area adjacent to South Main Street at Southlands, received initial blessing March 22 from the city’s management and finance committee.

Taking advantage of a recently approved ordinance that allows the city to implement entertainment districts, the area would create limited common consumption areas at Southlands, permitting event attendees to legally sip alcoholic beverages in public.

And while the district would technically be delineated by South Southlands Parkway to the south and west, South Central Street to the east and East Orchard Road to the north, the common consumption areas would be limited to small parcels within the greater area and would only be activated during special events, according to Trevor Vaughn, manager of the city’s tax and licensing division.

“Essentially, the common consumption area would be that town square down there in front of the theaters,” Vaughn said. “The advantage also of including the entire Southlands area is that if there’s a future wine walk … we could potentially work that in.”

Jeff Nemec, general manager of Southlands, said the specific public drinking areas will improve security and discretion during the shopping center’s annual summer concert series, entitled “Sounds of Southlands.”

“People informally bring their own alcohol even though it’s not really allowed … but it’s a concert and you want people to kind of have a good time, so you go from strictly enforcing it to kind of looking the other way,” Nemec said. “It’s always been this gray area. We think it could really enhance our events, and then also just keep tighter security and it’s not ‘Hear no evil, see no evil.’”

This year, the “Sounds of Southlands” series begins with a show June 22. City staff intimated the district would ideally be established before that performance.

Nemec added the new district would allow the mall to more easily host a “wine walk” event in the future, something developers have long pondered.

“It’s something we’ve always been interested in doing,” he said.

The city approved an ordinance that permits the implementation of entertainment districts last month at the behest of developers behind Stanley Marketplace. Backers of the Dallas Street bazaar are in the process of creating their own entertainment district, The Westerly Creek Entertainment District, so patrons can meander outside of designated watering holes and sip beverages in any of the marketplace’s many common areas.

“This is like Stanley but farther south,” said Councilman Brad Pierce, who serves as chairman of the management and finance committee.

Vaughn has previously said there are numerous stipulations built into the law regarding entertainment districts that prevent the consumption areas from being established near minors, among other safeguards.

The new entertainment district, which would be only the city’s second, will need approval from the full council at a future date. The three-member finance committee unanimously decided to forward the item to a future study session for further debate.