City commissioners consider allowing beer in movie theaters

David Floyd • May 13, 2019 at 10:38 PM

Locals could soon enjoy a cold brew alongside their popcorn and candy when they visit a movie theater in Johnson City.

City commissioners continued ironing out a proposed ordinance during their agenda review meeting Monday evening that would allow movie theaters to sell beer to patrons. The city’s current ordinance prohibits people from publicly consuming an alcoholic beverage in a theater.

As written, city staff said the draft ordinance would limit sales to movies at or below an R rating and would not include forms of alcohol beyond beer. Commissioners also explored the merits of expanding the ordinance to allow live theaters to sell alcohol and discussed the consequences of requiring theaters that sell beer to also sell food.

“What we want to be conscious of is to not set up an environment where you can show movies or you can just run a bar in a theater for certain hours of the day,” said City Manager Pete Peterson.

Johnson City is considering this change as AMC Theatres moves ahead with a roughly $6 million renovation of the AMC Classic Johnson City 14 cinema at 1805 N Roan St., which would include the addition of a bar.

“Right now it’s the weakest link in our market,” said Johnson City vice mayor Joe Wise. “If you look at movie theaters in Bristol and surrounding cities, they are head and shoulders above what’s offered in Johnson City.”

A representative from AMC Theatres told commissioners and city staff during the meeting that the renovations would involve replacing seats with recliners, improving the auditorium environment and reducing the number of seats by almost 50 percent. The theater will also require visitors to reserve seats before a showing. The rest of the investment will be dedicated to improving the exterior, lobbies, restrooms and equipment in the remodeled concession stand.

The theater will remain open during construction, and the company expects to complete work in 2019.

Peterson told commissioners that he’s noticed a shift in how members of the Johnson City Commission have approached the rules governing alcohol.

“For the last 60 years alcohol has been one of those things that, ‘We don’t want it, but we’re going to have to allow it so we’re going to regulate the heck out of it,’ ” he said, “and this group seems to be moving to, ‘Alcohol is OK. We don’t have to make it unnecessarily burdensome.’ ”

Peterson pointed out that historically the city’s regulations on alcohol have been purposefully burdensome in an effort to discourage and control drunkenness and inappropriate behavior. 

He said city staff will continue reworking and modernizing the ordinance over the next several days.

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