Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 | 4:25 p.m.
The number of bars and liquor stores in downtown Las Vegas had exploded over the last five years, prompting the City Council to reconsider how it doles out liquor licenses in an attempt to curb crime and other problems stemming from easy access to alcohol.
The issue: City staff today presented a report surveying the number and type of liquor licenses downtown, along with recommendations on addressing issues related to an overabundance of alcohol retailers.
The vote: No action was taken. The council plans to continue discussing possible regulatory changes in workshops and public meetings over the next month.
What it means: Las Vegas City Council members need to figure out whether they want the Fremont Street Experience and surrounding downtown area to be more like the anything-goes party scene on Bourbon Street in New Orleans or more like the redeveloped Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, which combines restaurants, shops and bars that appeal to a wide variety of ages.
“What type of downtown do we want? What do we want our downtown to look like?” Councilman Ricki Barlow said.
“I believe these are great growing pains, but this council now has to pause and slow up a little bit to make sure the decisions that we make going forward are decisions that we can live with in the future,” he said.
For years, entrepreneurs seeking liquor licenses downtown have encountered little resistance from a City Council eager to bring new businesses to the area.
The council even provided incentive for new taverns and urban lounges to open downtown by reducing license fees.
But those incentives and a surge of redevelopment activity led to an explosion of liquor licenses that exceeded what the city had anticipated. There are 136 businesses licensed to sell alcohol in downtown Las Vegas.
Over the last five years, the number of package liquor stores, which sell bottles or cases of alcohol, wine and beer, has increased nearly 70 percent, to 16 licenses. The total number of liquor licenses in the area, including liquor stores, bars and restaurants, is up a third over the same time period.
Outside of downtown, the number of package liquor stores has increased by just 2.5 percent since 2009, while the number of liquor licenses overall actually decreased by 4.5 percent.
The number of alcohol retailers, especially liquor stores, downtown is a contributing factor to underage drinking, consumption from open containers, gang activity and vagrancy, according to the report.
Business Licensing Director Karen Duddleston said the statistics raise several questions that need answers, including how prevalent access to alcohol should be, when a bar or restaurant should be limited to patrons 21 and older and whether further restrictions on liquor licenses are needed to maintain the quality and character of downtown.
To deal with the proliferation of liquor stores, Duddleston said, several steps could be taken, such as increasing separation requirements between outlets, tying the number of licenses to the size of the population or changing the fee structure for licenses. But she did not endorse a particular solution.
The council directed staff to continue reviewing the report to develop comprehensive proposals for tackling alcohol issues downtown. Those proposals could be presented as early as next month.
“We have adults coming down here to drink and we have Zappos setting up a zoo at the old City Hall for kids,” Councilman Stavros Anthony said. “I think that’s really our biggest challenge is setting up a downtown where adults can come down and do adult things, where teenagers can come down and do teenager things without being influenced by alcohol. I see little kids walking around downtown now.”