RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – People visiting downtown Raleigh may have an option to sip-n-stroll by later this summer. Raleigh’s city council will vote on whether or not to allow for a social district at their next meeting.

A social district would allow visitors to bring alcoholic drinks outside a restaurant and walk on public streets with an open container. Restaurants and bars would use specially labeled cups visitors use. City staff has proposed making the social district effective August 15.

Whitney Schoenfeld, Director of Emergency Management and Special Events said there were two reasons social districts were becoming a more popular.

“One is to support our local businesses and bring people back downtown. as well as keep people safe and outdoors while we’re still in the middle of a COVID-19,” Schoenfeld said.

Several North Carolina cities have already put social districts in place but their populations are much smaller than Raleigh. Some of those cities includ Greensboro, Hickory, Kannapolis and Hickory.

Shoefield said some of the state’s larger cities like Charlotte and Durham are currently exploring the idea of a social district.

Social district boundaries

City staff have proposed the city’s social district cover the Fayetteville Street area and City Market. Moore Square and GoRaleigh’s transit center are not included in the proposal. Red Hat Amphitheater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and the Raleigh Convention Center are also included in the proposed district for people want to sip on a drink before attending an event.

Staff also noted that any business within the boundary is allowed to prohibit alcohol on their property is they choose to do so.

Hours of operation

While council members initially suggested a difference in hours of operation between Friday and Saturday nights and other days of the week, city staff have suggested a more consistent timeframe.

Their recommendations are to operate from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Staff said ending at 10 p.m. would capture the end of dinner and retail hours without bleeding into nightlife.

“We don’t want an atmosphere like New Orleans or anything like that. Again, this is to promote and support our local businesses and bring people back downtown, helping with the economic prosperity of our city,” said Schoenfeld.

Challenges ahead

The biggest challenge with the social district could come when special events are in place.

Under current state law, alcohol purchased within boundaries of a special event may not be taken outside of the special event. At the same time, alcohol purchased within boundaries of a social district may not be taken outside the social district or into a special event footprint.

That could create confusion if a special event that permits alcohol, like a beer festival, is happening within the social district. City staff said Fayetteville Street typically holds about 25 events with alcohol sales throughout the year.

Shoenfield said if special events do not encompass the entire social district, then the social district could remain in place for the areas outside the special event.

For example, if an event is happening on Fayetteville Street where alcohol is being served, the social district could not be in place. The social district would still be allowed for City Market or Red Hat Amphitheater which are not on Fayetteville Street.

Raleigh’s city council is scheduled to vote on the social district at their July 5 meeting.