Several Helena business owners have joined a grassroots effort to make it legal to carry open alcohol containers in Downtown Helena.
Detailed in a proposal sent to the Helena City Commission, the open-container zone would follow Last Chance Gulch from Lawrence Street through the walking mall up to Pioneer Park. It would also include the parking lot on Park Avenue, the crossings and sidewalks from the Lewis & Clark Library to Broadway, the parking lot and street west of the Helena Hotel (former Park Plaza Hotel), the alley behind the Rialto Bar and Power Block, Sixth Avenue from the Power Block to the walking mall, Great Northern Boulevard from the Cinemark to the carousel, Front Street from 14th Street to Neill Avenue, Neill Avenue crossing from Front Street to Last Chance Gulch, Fuller Avenue from Neill Avenue to Sixth Avenue, and Lawrence Street from the Grandstreet Theatre to the Holter Museum.
Masterminded by Kevin Hamm of Studio 19 Productions, the open-container zone would allow Helenans to take drinks outside of establishments without repercussions from 4-10 p.m. on weekdays and from noon-10 p.m. on weekends.
“Butte has an open container policy in Uptown and it’s worked fine,” Hamm said. “It fits every Art Walk. We have not experimented with it, we have not formalized it."
Hamm believes the proposal would add to downtown business, as people would not be "anchored" in a bar or brewery after buying a drink.
Riley Tubbs, co-owner of Ten Mile Creek Brewery on the walking mall, supports the downtown open-container zone.
“We would love to see a vibrant downtown,” Tubbs said. “It would be a more open downtown on Fridays and for special events.”
Calvin Richards of Bad Betty’s Barbecue agrees.
“I see a lot of other towns taking entertainment districts and making them open container,” Richards said.
Richards believes that allowing people to move with their drinks from place to place would allow them to enjoy food and drink more easily, especially if they want to have an alcoholic beverage but the restaurant they go to doesn’t have a beer or wine license.
“Just from a financial standpoint, it will be good for local businesses,” Richards said. “People will move around and go to those locations and spend money.”
Brianne Harrington of the Painted Pot thinks the open container zone would allow Helena's nightlife to flourish.
“We want to make downtown a place to come after work,” Harrington said.
“We’re unique in our downtown,” Harrington said. “Missoula and Bozeman have busy streets running through theirs, and we’re sort of off the main drag."
Hamm also stressed that this proposed space is not just about the alcohol.
“It doesn’t remove drunk and disorderly rules,” Hamm said. “The 10 p.m. limit forces people to go into bars and rowdy people slow down.”
The Helena City Commission is considering adding a discussion about the proposal to the agenda for its Feb. 7 administrative meeting.