To beer or not to beer — that is the question.
The Bristol, Va., City Council has approved for the first time the sale of beer at the city-owned DeVault Memorial Stadium. The baseball park is home to the Bristol White Sox, which shares a spot in the Appalachian League with the Johnson City Cardinals.
Though suds have been offered at Cardinal Park in the past, that no longer is the case. However, city officials last week did revisit that possibility at a long-range planning session. And for the most part, the mood was accepting.
Following Bristol’s decision, six of the Appy League’s 10 parks now sell beer, including Kingsport and Greeneville, Danville and Pulaski, Va., and Burlington, N.C. Parks in Johnson City, Elizabethton and Bluefield and Princeton, W.Va., do not allow beer sales.
Bristol Baseball Inc. President and General Manager Mahlon Luttrell said Thursday he received requests to provide beer at games over the last few years, but the driving force behind his public campaign in the end was economic.
“With the cost of insurance, maintenance and other things going up, we felt we couldn’t burden our customers with a ticket-price increase,” he said. “You can price yourself out of the market.”
Luttrell admitted there were people who strongly opposed the move, but he decided to start a communitywide campaign and talked to many churchgoers who also either worked at or attended sporting events in the region.
“When we started, we had to do some serious soul searching,” he said. “We would ask them, ‘Do you attend the Bristol races? Yes. Do you go to Atlanta Braves games? Yes.’ We told them we needed the revenues and that we planned to do this responsibly. It will be reviewed on a regular basis, and we’re not going to force it.”
The city owns Cardinal Park, but the Johnson City Sports Found-ation manages the Cardinals from June through Sept-ember. Foundation President Lee Sowers was not immediately available for comment, and Cardinals General Manager Chuck Arnold declined to comment on the possibility.
Foundation Vice President Thomas Weems said the organization’s board has considered beer sales at the park. He also confirmed revenues are always a consideration.
“We’ve really not gotten hold of the issues we’ll encounter if we do sell beer, and at this time it’s a moot point,” he said. “We look at it from a fan experience perspective. We’ve contacted all the teams in the league to see how beer sales affect them, and it’s a complicated issue.”
Gary Mabrey, Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said if the Sports Foundation and the city act responsibly, the same can be done here as Bristol.
“If not, we should end it,” he said.
Mabrey, who attended the city’s planning session last week, said the Chamber has not received any inquiries regarding the reinstatement of beer sales at Cardinal Park.
“Having said that, we would be OK with it if everyone was ‘carded,’ and we would expect enforcement in that anyone being unruly or causing trouble would be escorted out. It is a city-owned facility, and the City Commission would have to enforce it. It’s real simple: if you’re out of line, you don’t come back.”
City Commissioner Clayton Stout said this week that, “We have a faith-based community.” But he also said he was open to discussion on the possibility if the community asked for that option.
“I’m thinking more long term,” he said. “I’m thinking about the stability of that operation first and foremost. I know there may be an attendance issue, but the city needs to be consistent with their alcohol policies regardless of the venue.”
Though the question of whether the Cardinals may want to reinstate brew at the ballpark could not be tied down, laws on the books amended in 2002 do give them that right.
Title 8, Section 101 of the city code outlaws alcoholic beverages on any public street, sidewalk, school, park, playground, theater, coliseum, stadium or school. It does, however, legally grant the sale of beverages containing an alcoholic content of 5 percent to “be allowed at Cardinal Park on Legion Street in the city of Johnson City during professional baseball games only. Likewise, the consumption of alcoholic beverages of 5 percent alcoholic content by weight or less purchased on-premises at Cardinal Park on Legion Street shall be allowed during professional games only.”
City law does not allow people to bring any alcoholic beverages into Cardinal Park for the purposes of “brown bagging.” Conversely, people are not allowed to carry any alcoholic beverages out of the park. Violators would pay a $50 fine.
The Elizabethton Twins do not have a “middle man,” so to speak, which operates the club. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department oversees operations at Joe O’Brien Field, and the department’s director, Mike Mains, also functions as the team’s general manager.
He was not available to talk about his take on beer sales.